Tom Cruise is still worth watching. Exhibit “A” is “Edge of Tomorrow,” a super slick, science fiction, actioner that moves like a “Bourne” film but will also appeal to the hipster video game crowd. And Cruise is excellent in the role of a coward turned potential hero. And like his career, in this film Cruise plays a guy who gets a second chance. And a third, fourth, fifth, sixth…
Cage (Cruise) is a former advertising executive thrust into military service when the Earth is attacked by an alien force. When Rita (Emily Blunt) manages to claim victory in one critical battle against the attacking invasion, Cage is called to London to meet with a General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson). Brigham informs Cage that it has been decided to put him on the front line for an incredibly risky offensive. Cage explains that he’s not trained for combat and would rather not serve. Of course, the coward isn’t kept off the front line.
Once in combat, Cage enters into a time warp of some sort, and in “Groundhog Day” fashion, he’s forced to relive the same day over and over again. But with each day, Cage gets better learning from his mistakes. Can he save the Earth? Only repeating time will tell.
Part of the joy associated with “Edge of Tomorrow” is following the transformation of Cage from goat to hero. This is handled through a series of entertaining montages. The pace is so quick that it is hard to put your brain on the ridiculous narrative and the creaky technology in the film (why such flimsy helmets?). Blunt makes a sexy warrior as she befriends and trains Cruise’s cowardly ad man turned soldier.
The first two acts are excellent, but the film loses steam as the action slows and the story becomes ever more familiar and less inventive. It is as if the central gimmick, that of “live, die, repeat” holds together only so long before wearing a little thin. And while there is never an “ah, ha” moment that matches the action packed visuals, the film’s comparatively brisk running time (less than 2 hours) makes it wholly tolerable throughout. Just don’t try to make sense of the ending—it might be a bit of a cheat.
The “Tomorrow” narrative isn’t nearly as sharp as the other time travel film that’s been dominating the box office (remember “X-Men?”). But instead of trying to infuse some smarts into the picture, “Tomorrow” goes the other way, focusing on battle scenes and video game style thrills. And while that stuff is popping, the movie is immensely entertaining.
Using this time shifting contrivance helps differentiate “Tomorrow” from other alien invasion pictures like, say, “Battle Los Angeles” that came out in 2011. “Tomorrow” keeps you interested in just how Cage and Rita might use Cage’s time travel gifts to save the planet. And ultimately, this is where sophisticated viewers might cry “foul.” I won’t give anything away, but it would be good to hear from viewers who can reconcile how the movie ends. Like director Doug Liman’s work on “The Bourne Identity” back in 2002, “Tomorrow” is a hyper viewing experience, but not nearly as serious as the emotionally heavy Bourne franchise.
Cruise gives Cage as self-aware almost clownish attitude that works to lighten the mood especially as Blunt adopts a straight-man, no-nonsense military personality. The humor is welcomed even though, ironically, the fate of the Earth is hanging in the balance. There is plenty of goofy fun to be had as Cage constantly resets with each failure. Video gamers will love it because the film plays with the idea of a “reset” button fantastically.
But given Cruise’s waning box office might, is “Edge of Tomorrow” worth the reported budget of $178 million? Sadly, no. Compare what filmmaker Neill Blomkamp did with just $30 million when he hit it big on 2009’s “District 9.” Nothing in “Tomorrow” looks any better than “District 9” and the story can’t compete with Blomkamp’s Oscar nominated mini-blockbuster. Maybe it’s time for the studios to hit the reset button and throttle back on huge budgets for material that could never justify the expense. In the meantime, check Monday’s box office totals, “The Fault in Our Stars” costs a mere $12 million and I’ll bet not one alien invader get zapped.