It looks set to be a cinematic summer dominated by sequels, reboots and rejigs. Precious little original property has snuck its way through the usual barrage of superheroes and robots hitting each other, but Edge of Tomorrow does its darndest to rain on the spandex parade. Doug Liman’s thoroughly engrossing and surprisingly witty action extravaganza may primarily be a mishmash of ideas plucked from the enduring classics of summers gone by – but what good is such nit-picking when you’re having this much rollicking fun?
Stemming from the marvellously titled Japanese novel All You Need is Kill, the story follows William Cage (Tom Cruise), a glorified PR rep for the US Army in a near future where much of planet Earth has fallen to an alien scourge known as the Mimics. Following a brush with a belligerent Brendan Gleeson, Cage finds himself chucked on to the front line of humanity’s final, all-or-nothing assault on the extraterrestrial menace. About 20 minutes into the film, an encounter with a particularly large Mimic leaves Cage very dead indeed – only for him to wake up back at base camp 24 hours earlier. Stuck in an apparently infinite time loop, our incompetent and cowardly ad exec is tasked with all but singlehandedly winning the war for humanity via an excruciating method of trial, error and death.
It sounds silly, and to be frank, it is – after all, the Mimics look like evil spaghetti monsters and the time paradoxes are insurmountable. But Liman knows this, and is perfectly happy to gear Edge of Tomorrow as a film very aware of its own fundamental absurdity. Cruise is pretty much the perfect actor for this kind of outing, blending 30 years worth of A-List star power with his apparently bottomless drawer of exasperated facial reactions. He also provides Liman with one of the most perfect, all-encompassing pitches in the history of film – if you love Tom Cruise then you get to see him on classic blockbuster form, and if you hate him he dies about 100 times over the course of the movie.
It’s not just the Tom Cruise love/hate axis that’s expertly balanced in Edge of Tomorrow, this is a film that manages to sit on the fence without ever feeling like a cynical cash in. Really, I struggle to think of a general demographic that wouldn’t enjoy it. This is blockbuster filmmaking at its most fundamental – big and noisy with plenty of silliness to match the more serious moments. Edge of Tomorrow is by no means perfect, but its sharp editing and countless swashbuckling action sequences make the occasionally hammy dialogue and awkwardly crow-barred D-Day parallels very easy to forgive indeed.
There’s just far too much senseless fun to get bogged down with such minor gripes. Sure, it’ll doubtless be batted around in the context of the countless other films (I personally like to think of it as Groundhog Day meets Starship Troopers) rather than judged as a truly original piece of cinema, but by the time Emily Blunt has irritably shot Tom Cruise in the face for the 20th time, it’s difficult to care. It’s tough to put a nuanced and coherent argument in favour of Edge of Tomorrow together, as it’s not really a nuanced or coherent film – but boy is it fun.The film moves at a relentless pace, snapping back in forth with a combination of orchestral explosions and quick edits, making its two hour run time an absolute breeze.
It helps that Liman has put a huge amount of investment into the world his characters populate, adding little touches like anti-Mimic slogans on t-shirts and Uncle Sam-esque propaganda, stepping well beyond tried and tested blockbuster expositing. Liman is evidently a man who cares a great deal about his films – he most famously fought tooth and nail with the Hollywood machine while making The Bourne Identity – and Edge of Tomorrow is filled with the finicky little details that leave it feeling far more personal than this sort of film has any right to be.
Maybe this’ll be the summer where the heavy-hitting blockbusters really get their act together. Godzilla was an artful and admirable failure, the new X-Men was a tour de force, and now Edge of Tomorrow comes along and surprises my socks off. It’s proper, dashing Hollywood filmmaking, blessed with a bonkers central construct and an admirable willingness to go beyond the call of duty. Its big ideas have largely been seen before, but it’s the little things that make Edge of Tomorrow a quality piece of blockbusting entertainment. The intricate tidbits of world-building, Cruise’s flabbergasted sigh as he cops it for the umpteenth time, the recurring appearance of a guy most known for his roles as an extra on Channel 4 sitcoms – these completely unnecessary, but distinctly heartfelt touches set Edge of Tomorrow apart, adding an oddly personal touch to a film that was bloody good fun to begin with.
Foibles be damned, Edge of Tomorrow is mindless fun of the highest order.