“Live. Die. Repeat.”
It’s a simple concept, one that drives Edge of Tomorrow forward from start to finish. Back when the Doug Liman-directed action film was first announced, it was called All You Need Is Kill (the name of the Japanese novel that Edge takes its cues from) and the premise was described by some in the know as Aliens meets Groundhog Day. The title eventually changed, but the premise remains: Like that Bill Murray comedy classic, Edge of Tomorrow focuses on one horrific 24-hour cycle in a man’s life, as told and retold on a seemingly endless and fatal loop.
Edge begins years before that fateful day. Archive news footage informs the audience of a massive alien invasion that swept across and demolished most of Western Europe well before the main action of the film. Following the invasion, countries across the globe cast aside their petty differences to unite together against these screeching, multi-limbed aliens, called “Mimics” due to their ability to adapt to the efforts of their human enemies.
Edge has fun with its ability to kill Cruise’s Cage over and over again, mostly consequence-free.
Hard-nosed General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) isn’t a fan of cowards, so he’s not a fan of Cage. He orders Cage to the war’s front lines to film a propaganda video during an assault in France designed to wipe out the Mimic threat for good. True to his wormy form, Cage freaks out and runs for the hills. He makes it approximately 20 feet outside of Brigham’s office before he’s captured and sent to Heathrow Airport to report as a deserter, demoted from major to private, and forced to fight in the subsequent day’s campaign.
On the day of the battle, Cage, armed to the teeth with a standard-issue mech-suit that looks like the bastard love-child of Gears of War and Elysium, manages to live long enough to kill an Alpha Mimic, a rare variation of the deadly alien species with time-manipulating abilities coursing through its blood. In killing the Alpha, Cage kills himself, only to reawaken back at Heathrow, doomed to relive the day on a mysterious and endless cycle. Only one person knows what he’s going through: Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), better known to her fellow soldiers as “The Full Metal Bitch.”
Edge is a little bit soft and a little bit goofy until the Groundhog Day device kicks in. Once it does, the movie becomes harder and even goofier. Edge is certainly edgy; its depiction of war and violence is very gritty indeed, but it’s sometimes reminiscent of the action of Starship Troopers, a film that is objectively ludicrous on a wonderful scale. For example, there’s one scene featuring a soldier, who likes to hit the battlefield “balls-out” beneath his mech-suit, getting smashed to bits by falling debris. It feels like something straight out of Paul Verhoeven’s 1997 marines-versus-aliens shoot-’em-up.
Likewise, Edge has fun with its ability to kill Cruise’s Cage over and over again, mostly consequence-free. Throughout the movie, Cage is eviscerated on the battlefield, shot in the head by Rita (this happens a lot), and squashed to death by a moving vehicle (this happens once and it’s fantastic), among other notable kills. The movie is no longer called All You Need Is Kill, but the spirit of that silly yet catchy title remains intact.
Whimsical and visceral fun aside, there’s emotional centeredness here as well, thanks in large part to the connection between Cruise’s Cage and Blunt’s Vrataski. Cruise and Blunt carry the bulk of the film on their shoulders, with smaller roles for other actors, including a highly entertaining but criminally underutilized Bill Paxton as Master Sergeant Farrell from Science Hill, Kentucky. (Aliens fans will get a kick out of how far Paxton’s come from his Private Hudson days, channeling his inner Apone instead.) Even with a sparse cast, Cruise and Blunt are big enough presences, and have such strong chemistry, that their relative lack of scene partners hardly registers.
It helps that Cruise and Blunt are airdropped into a fully formed world with excellent design. The battle suits are clunky weapons of war, representing humanity’s dying chances against the Mimic threat. The Mimics themselves are reminiscent of the creatures from Attack the Block, if they met (once again) the Starship Troopers bugs that is, with enough visual and biological, story-driven differences to make them work on their own.
While the action and stakes keep viewers on the edge of their seats, Edge of Tomorrow ultimately works for the same reasons that Groundhog Day works. It tells the story of a smarmy scumbag forced to confront his weaknesses and become an optimal version of himself. It’s a redemption song that moviegoers have heard time and time again, and it works as well as it ever has here in Edge, thanks to the infusion of some high-stakes action and star-powered performances. But beyond those ingredients, Edge is a success because it follows a weak individual’s transformation from “dead guy in a suit” to deadliest guy in the suit. It’s a very fun transformation to behold.
(Media © Warner Bros. Pictures)