Edge of Tomorrow (2014) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): A smart SF action film rolling its time loop

edgeoftomorrow03  “Edge of Tomorrow” is a loud, explosive SF action film which is also smart, witty, and exhilarating inside its gritty, metallic armor. Sure, most of its components are familiar stuffs which will take you back to many other films, but they are mixed together into a clever SF story which keeps finding inventive or engaging ways to play with its repetitive premise throughout the film, and it is exciting and amusing to watch how it surprises and entertains us a lot more than expected.

At first, the background of its story looks so typical that you will not have much expectation if you have seen any recent SF action films about massive alien invasion. Not long after a meteor crashed to the ground near Hamburg, Germany, the alien invasion began, and these aliens, which are named “Mimics”, have been ruthlessly expanding their territory with no mercy for humanity. The United Defense Forces(UDF) were instantly formed among the countries all over the world for fighting against their common enemy, but they have gotten no significant victory yet during last 5 years, while most of the European Continent has been occupied by aliens with the ruins evoking those bleak images from the World War II.

All seem to be lost as the UDF manage to hold their defense line in Great Britain, but then they get their first major victory in Verdun, France thanks to a newly developed equipment called Exosuit, a combat armor reminiscent of a similar one depicted in Robert A. Heinlein’s SF novel “Starship Troopers”. More confident than ever, the UDF are now about to make a decisive move through a big military operation, which is not so different from the Invasion of Normandy.

When Major William Cage(Tom Cruise) comes to London as a UDF public relation officer, he has never thought of being hurled into combat, but General Brigham(Brendan Gleeson) orders him to cover this important military operation for boosting their public image. Cage, a former civilian with no proper military training or battle experience at all, is not very pleased about this sudden order, and he even attempts to blackmail Brigham to avoid being deployed to the battlefield.

edgeoftomorrow05 Well, that turns out to be not a wise choice. He is promptly arrested, and, when he wakes up in the next morning, he finds himself transported to a massive military base where thousands of soldiers are fully ready for the combat to come. Stripped of his rank, he is put into an infantry unit under the command of Master Sergeant Farell(Bill Paxton), and then he is sent to the battlefield on the very next day without any preparation. He manages to wear Exosuit with some help at least, but he does not know how to operate this combat armor equipped with various weapons including machine gun, and he is utterly helpless when he is about to be dropped to the ground with others.

You think it cannot be possibly worse for him, but then Cage finds himself in the middle of a futuristic PG-13 version of that hellish battle sequence of “Saving Private Ryan”(1998). Because of the unexpected ambush by aliens, thousands of soldiers are instantly slaughtered amid lots of crashes and explosions, and, though he somehow killed one of the Mimics, it does not take much time for Cage to get himself killed….

… and then he wakes up exactly at the same spot where he woke up in the previous morning, and, to his surprise, it is also exactly the very same day. Everything happens exactly as he remembers, and then he finds himself again at the same place and the same time right after he gets killed again on the battlefield.

Yes, as many of you have already guessed, this is similar to “Groundhog Day”(1993), and the premise of the movie will certainly remind you a lot of video games as you watch its hero getting killed again and again during his repeated battle experience. Fortunately, the screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie, John-Henry Butterworth, and Jez Butterworth, which is based on Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s novel “All You Need Is Kill”, is not one of those brainless ones merely peppered with loud actions. The movie never lets itself be dragged or monotonous as exploring what can be done inside the rules set upon its story, and it trusts our intelligence while never making a mistake of repeating itself to bore us. Once we understand where it is, it quickly moves to the other point in the next cycle without confusing us, and we can clearly sense the plot progression as its main character continues to learn one thing and then try the other thing during the countless variations of his circumstance. Like “Groundhog Day”, it also finds several moments of wry humor from the inherently absurd aspect of its story, and I saw the audiences around me chuckling as enjoying its humorous moments spread around here and there in the film.

edgeoftomorrow04  And it also makes us care about Cage’s plight as watching his exhaustion and frustration growing from this repeated situation. He can live again whenever he fails, and he makes some progress as trying to survive every time, but this is not a video game for him at all. Going into almost certain death every day is certainly not a pleasant experience for anyone, so we are not surprised to see him trying to get away from his fate during one scene – but he only comes to realize that he has no choice but to struggle through another same battle as before for himself and, as it is turned out later, for humanity.

After the setup phase, the plot gets thickened when Cage comes across Sergeant Rita Vrataski(Emily Blunt), a female soldier who has been very famous since her heroic fight during the battle in Verdun. Although she is not in the same time loop, it is revealed that she somehow knows what is happening to Cage, and that is how he begins to understand more about his situation through her and Dr. Carter(Noah Talyor), a shabby scientist with some important knowledge about Mimics which may provide a solution to Cage’s problem.

The director Doug Liman, who previously made “The Bourne Identity”(2002) and “Mr. & Mrs. Smith”(2005), balances his film well between story and action. The intensity of the battle sequence in the film may be too much for young sensitive audiences, but it is handled well enough to give a solid starting point for the story, and then the movie moves its focus further from that as developing the story to the next steps with more good moments, including the sequence which reminded me of that elegant, fabulous timing of a certain memorable sequence in “Minority Report”(2002).

My only complaint is that the aliens in the film are not very interesting to watch even though they do their job as scary, menacing creatures which look like Sentinels from “Matrix”(1999). As your average CGI creatures, these aliens move very fast or attack very quickly like those transformer robots, and all I can remember about them are their slick tentacles and the fluorescent light from their mouth. During the climax sequence, we encounter a big creature which looks like a giant sea anemone from the outside, but that is not particularly interesting either, except functioning as the final stage for the story.

edgeoftomorrow02 Still, the movie is a highly enjoyable action flick made under skillful direction, and it is also supported by good performances. While being a credible action movie hero as usual, Tom Cruise is particularly good as presenting his character’s gradual development along the story. In the beginning, Cage is not so different from a brash sports agent Cruise played in “Jerry Maguire”(1996), but then, like Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day”, Cruise adds nice nuances to his character as he keeps going through his predicament, and you can always sense the accumulating changes inside his character through his performacne.

As a brave, strong female character who has a good reason to believe a man she has never met before, Emily Blunt shows here a surprisingly tough side we have never seen from her. She has a good subdued chemistry with Cruise, and the movie wisely underplays the potential of romance between their characters as they repetitively struggle together to find any possible way to defeat their enemy. While Cage remembers everything that has happened between them during his seemingly endless cycles, Vrataski is always reset to where she was just like everything else while remembering nothing, and both of them are well aware of the gap between them. As spending so much time with her again and again, Cage naturally comes to care about her despite the impossibility of their relationship, and there is a poignant moment when they happen to have a little private time between them at some remote place.

Although they play less developed supporting characters in the film, Brendan Gleeson, Bill Paxton, and Noah Talyor are dependable actors who can be interesting even when playing the most thankless roles, and they bring humor and life into their respective characters while maintaining their straight faces. Gleeson looks inflexible and adamantine at first, but his character turns out to be a lot more reasonable than we thought, and he is convincing during the crucial transition of his character at one point. While Paxton gives a droll Southern-style performance as a tough sergeant from Tennessee, Taylor is well-cast in his nerdy supporting role, and he brings some nervous energy to the obligatory explanation scene in the film.

When I watched “Edge of Tomorrow” at the local theater during Wednesday night, I had a terrific time with others, and I found myself musing on the story as its end credits rolled – and that is not something which usually happens to me when I watch a summer blockbuster action film. To be frank with you, I still cannot explain well about how its ending can be possible and I think its climax part is rather contrived, but the movie plays well with its premise and story, and, with its increased dramatic stakes, the climax part actually works as a thrilling and satisfying way to clear its playground for us after all those fun and excitement it gives to us. This is surely a first-class Hollywood entertainment which makes our another blockbuster season less boring, and it is really nice to see that a blockbuster film can be equipped with ideas and drama to intrigue and excite us at the same time.

 Sidenote: This is a busy action film which is not so appropriate for 3D from the beginning, so I strongly recommend you to watch the 2D version for a clearer and brighter view. Yes, I have said this to you many times before, but I have never been tiring of this repetition because it is a good advice which may help you saving a bit of money at the movie theater.



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