At a time when every newspaper and rolling news bulletin carries a story reporting various troops massed along the Ukrainian border and the powers of Europe at loggerheads at how to resolve the crisis, it can be hard not to be reminded of the potentially avoidable preamble to World War II. And it will be even harder to forget after watching inventive and exhilarating sci-fi thriller Edge of Tomorrow, an adaptation of Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s light novel All You Need Is Kill that sees Tom Cruise stuck in a time-loop as hostile aliens conquer the world, with its theme of history repeating itself coincidentally reflecting current events.
One thing we haven’t seen before is Tom Cruise playing a coward. As a military spin-doctor, Major William Cage is as far from the war zone as possible, hauled up in a near-abandoned London where he uses his fast tongue and seedy charm to recruit millions of brave civilians to a cause he’s more than happy to stay out of.
Ironic, then, that it should be a PR gaff – mistaking General Brigham’s (Gleeson) empathy as a desire for self-preservation – that lands him on the Saving Private Ryan-inspired beaches of Normandy, bumbling around like he’s just soiled his fancy Elysium-esque exoskeleton, during humanity’s final push against the mimics (swirling masses of metallic tentacles that look like transforma-octopi).
Needless to say, Cage snuffs it almost immediately after he is literally dropped into the heart of the massacre, only to wake up two days before the battle where he realises he is stuck in a time-loop, forced to relive that same horrific day over and over thanks to absorbing some time-reset-enabling alien blood (as always with these movies, its best not to think too hard about the mechanics of time-travel).
At this point the movie takes on the style of an RPG shoot-em-up as Cage hones his skills as a soldier by trial and error, respawning from his last save point after each death– only without being trolled by a headset-wearing 13-year-old with chronic acne. Guided through the level by war hero Rita Vrataski (Blunt), Cage learns from his mistakes to master the level and find away out of the battle once and for all.
This time-loop framing device is of course taken from Groundhog Day, and to a lesser extent Source Code, and director Doug Liman infuses the reset scenes with the same wry humour found in the former to keep the action lively. While at times the long resurrection montages frustrate as the repetition stalls the plot, for the most part Liman succeeds in turning the grim prospect of repeated deaths into comic vignettes such as Cage trying to time a roll beneath a moving truck with varying degrees of success.
It also helps that Liman and the writers propel the action in exciting directions by jumping father in time than we initially realise. This move effectively alters the character dynamics as Cage shifts from a confused newb to knowing more about the war’s outcome than anyone else.
Cage’s journey from selfish officer to sacrificing war hero is told by way of a subtly moving romance with Blunt’s Vrataski, his repeated days allowing him to form a close connection that Vrataski can’t help but forget with each reset. It’s this connection that drives Cage’s transformation from a desire for self-preservation to an understanding that other lives are more important than his own.
It’s a shame, then, that this satisfying character arc is undone by an inexplicable ending scene that seems to be born out of the same marketing fears the lead to the sudden title change from All You Need Is Kill. But this is only five iffy minutes in what is otherwise an enjoyable return to form for both Cruise and Liman, one that surprises and excites in equal measure.
Runtime: 113 Minutes Genre: Sci-fi Released: 30 May 2014
Director: Doug Liman Writers: Christopher McQuarrie, Jez & John-Henry Butterworth
Cast: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Brendan Gleeson, and Bill Paxton
Click here to watch the trailer for Edge of Tomorrow