Film Review — Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

Director Doug Liman brings us a masterful adaptation in the truest sense of the word.

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Time is a precious commodity in any film, but especially so in one that spends the majority of its run recycling scenes and settings as the primary means of advancing its story. There are many risks associated with this narrative technique, the most obvious of which is your audience growing bored of stale settings before your story has come full circle. Edge of Tomorrow, however, laughs boldly in the face of these concerns and masterfully exploits every last moment of screen time spent with its audience.

Based on a Japanese light novel—Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s All You Need is Kill—the film takes place in a near-future Earth setting during a war with an unknown alien species. Sound familiar? Don’t worry. Most of the story movement here centers around our protagonist, who makes a habit of dying, only to wake up at the start of his final day amongst the living. The final product is oozing with originality and boasts a pace that begins steadily enough, but quickly takes off at a dead sprint that it maintains for its entire duration.

There is no time for hand-holding here.

Narrative ground is covered quickly and intelligently, and director Doug Liman works under the assumption his audience is sharp enough to keep up, filling in large time gaps with precisely measured dialogue and action. The audience doesn’t need to relive this day in full every single time our protagonist does—so we don’t. It’s that simple. The presentation is quick, but always leaves viewers with just enough information to follow what’s playing out before them. Liman truly takes full advantage of this story’s relatively complex structure, developing the plot in a fashion entirely unique to his work. Many changes are made from the source material, but they are almost unanimously for the better, and there are an equal number of homages—such as the Americanization of protagonist William Cage’s name from the original’s Keiji Kiriya.

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Enter our main characters: the spectacular Emily Blunt as Sergeant Rita Vrataski—perhaps better known as the “Full Metal Bitch”—and Tom Cruise as Major William Cage. The film has many top-notch performances to offer—Bill Paxton is nothing short of delightful as Master Sergeant Farell—but Cruise’s portrayal of Cage is in particular pleasantly surprising.

Anybody who is at all familiar with Cruise’s filmography and has seen a trailer for Edge of Tomorrow already has an image of who William Cage is before he even appears on screen. Cruise, while an excellent actor, isn’t exactly known for his diversity—we have action hero Tom Cruise, culturally curious action hero Tom Cruise, sci-fi action hero Tom Cruise, and the rare beauty that is Tropic Thunder Tom Cruise. A point is made this time around, however, to ensure things are a little different; we’re doing far more here than copy-and-pasting sci-fi action hero Tom Cruise into this material’s world.

Cage is no hero starting out, nor does he fit into the typical hero’s journey development path. He’s actually something of a coward—conniving, self-centered, and far more graceful with words than weapons. The best part is that Cruise sells every ounce of this character; rather than feigning weakness only to run out guns blazing half an hour later, he genuinely comes across as a complex human being with no affinity whatsoever for combat scenarios. It’s hard to blame a man who’s very much not a soldier for wanting no part of fighting and dying against his will, but such resistance begs the question—is this man simply afraid, or does he consider himself better than the men and women dying around him? Cruise clearly understands this conflict, and it shows—all the way from his first unapologetic attempts to slip into the shadows, to the mental and emotional toll taken on him by film’s end.

Despite the weight and darkness of these events, both Cruise’s performance and the film at large display a surprising quantity of humor. Much of it is dark humor, of course, which could only be truly effective involving a character the viewer knows is going to die many times. We laugh in spite of ourselves at the jarring sight of our non-hero being run over by a large vehicle, if only for the contrast this creates to the numerous slightly more heroic deaths by alien combat.

It is common in sci-fi for a canon to become convoluted and unwieldy or lose its original vision, but this sort of exploitation is further evidence to the contrary—that Liman knows precisely what he is doing as he expertly fleshes out every facet of this world and fully immerses his audience in it.

This is the epitome of a great film, regardless of genre. Whereas most science fiction would rely on elements such as the time loops and jackets—mechanized war suits—for surface-level appeal and be satisfied with mediocrity in terms of substance, Edge of Tomorrow succeeds in telling a unique story that could only take place in its own world, and does so in a clear but intelligent manner. Filmmakers, sci-fi and otherwise, take note: this is what you should be striving for.

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