Edge of Tomorrow represents the deconstruction – and then the hurried, harried reconstruction – of Tom Cruise.
After some perfunctory faux news footage – in which talking heads get us up to speed on an ongoing war between humans and invading aliens – Edge of Tomorrow delivers a series of spiky, narrative twists, the first of which is an amusing play on the persona of the movie’s star.
Cruise is usually the super-suave action savior, but in Edge of Tomorrow he’s a weasel. His Maj. William Cage looks the part, especially in his crisp military uniform, but he’s actually an ex-ad man who is now the face of the global United Defense Force, in charge of wooing recruits. Cage’s only on-the-ground military experience is the ROTC. That is, until he’s ordered by a superior (Brendan Gleeson) to accompany a planned assault of the alien forces on the shores of France. “I do this to avoid doing that,” Cage says, before trying to blackmail his way out of the assignment.
He ends up getting arrested, assigned to a squadron and thrust into the chaos of a futuristic D-Day, where he’s promptly killed. Or is he? Immediately after dying, Cage awakens to find himself back on the base with the same squadron, where he’ll repeat the previous 24 hours as if he’s in some sci-fi variation of Groundhog Day.
Does Edge of Tomorrow tease out the same sort of existential implications of that Bill Murray comedy classic? More than you might expect. As the squad’s leader, Bill Paxton sprinkles metaphysics into his training regimen, barking, “Through readiness and discipline we are masters of our fate.” He even makes his troops eat playing cards – games of chance – to emphasize his point. Of course, much of the movie tells us the opposite. Although Cage becomes a more disciplined solider each time he dies and learns from his mistakes, he still gets sent into the maw of battle once again. If there is any satirical edge to the film, a la Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers, perhaps it’s here. Cage could, after all, be seen as a one-man stand-in for the generations of men and women who have been sent to their deaths throughout American military history. Iraq, in particular, can be viewed as a Cage-style “reset.”
Edge of Tomorrow delivers a series of spiky, narrative twists.
Whatever the subtext you find in the film, director Doug Liman certainly gives Edge of Tomorrow a visceral surface. In its evocation of the breathlessness of battle, the attack at Normandy can rightfully be mentioned alongside its clear inspiration: Steven Spielberg’s famed Omaha Beach sequence from Saving Private Ryan. Here, the soldiers are dropped, one at a time, from heliplanes above. Connected by a wire, they spin about in a purgatory of crossfire before dropping into the hell that’s on earth.
Once the resets begin for Cage, the movie (like Groundhog Day) becomes an editing showcase, jumping back and forth in time with impressive agility. Cage’s deaths are at first jarring, but they eventually become punch lines, especially as Cruise’s line readings transition from terror and shock to grim impatience.
Just as this black humor threatens to become wearying, Edge of Tomorrow allows a sense of sorrow to creep in. This largely involves the character of Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), a poster warrior for the United Defense Force ever since she led a rare victory against the aliens. Known as the “Angel of Verdun” for the site of her triumph, we first see Rita posing in propaganda billboards. By the time Cage stumbles into her on the beach in France, her mythology is intact. And while she lives up to her reputation – she’s a whirling dervish of death against the aliens – we also come to learn that her ferocity is fueled by deep loss. When Cage has to watch her die over and over again each time he resets this day, it hurts.
Edge of Tomorrow pushes this relationship a bit too far; not content with platonic partnership, romance unconvincingly creeps in. The climax then relies on the supposed bond between Vrataski and Cage in a way that the movie hasn’t earned. What’s more, this move is part of the careful Cruise reconstruction that takes place in the final third of the film. No longer a weasel, Cage now has a love interest, a plan of attack and the capabilities to carry it out. In other words, he’s transformed from William Cage, selfish deserter, to Tom Cruise, action savior. Considering how much fun I was having earlier, I was almost hoping the movie’s ending included another reset.