Edge of Tomorrow ★★★★

Unless you possessed the ability of preternatural foresight few would have predicted that the blandly titled, Edge of Tomorrow, would emerge as frontrunner for film of the summer. There was a time, not too long ago, that any film starring Tom Cruise would have been a sure-fire success. However, with a number of disappointments behind him this latest high-concept action movie seemed little more than scheduling fodder to bulk out the blockbuster season between heavyweight sequels and the newest comic book adaptations. How wrong this prediction was.

Based on Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s novel, All You Need Is Kill, Doug Liman’s thrilling sci-fi action movie is centred on an army PR man sent to the front line in a war against a hostile alien invasion. Finding himself stuck in a time loop he is forced to repeatedly live out the war - can he turn his unique ability to humanity’s advantage and finally discover a way to defeat the alien adversaries?

Edge of Tomorrow is the perfect remedy for last year’s crop of overblown and underwhelming blockbusters. It’s a smart, witty, exhilarating and surprising summer spectacular that stands proudly out from the crowd of predictable me-too movies. Sure, many of its component parts are cobbled together from existing material (Groundhog Day meets Starship Troopers seems to be the easiest way to pigeonhole the film) but it still manages to stand on its own two mechanised feet whilst affectionately doffing its cap to its obvious influences.

Time loop mechanics are nothing new in the world of cinema with a protagonist forced to play out the same events time and again, gradually learning through repetitious trial and error. Edge of Tomorrow, following some economical exposition surrounding the alien threat, throws both the audience and Tom Cruise’s silver-tongued deserter into the heat of battle, discovering the rules of the world as we go. It’s a breathless opening neatly establishing the characters whilst delivering disorienting action set pieces that are filled with urgency.

Director, Doug Liman, is known for his spontaneous shooting style and he employs the same energy with great effect here. The initial assault brilliantly captures the panic of war as our frankly useless protagonist is thrown into an extra-terrestrial hell. The fact it is Tom Cruise, practically a real life action hero, who is completely out of his depth adds to the film’s unpredictability. Naturally, with his infinite lives cheat activated he slowly emerges as the action icon of old as he learns to fight the aliens with the help of Emily Blunt’s war veteran teacher cum potential love interest.

Ultimately, it is a film indebted to videogames as much as it is to classic sci-fi cinema. The structure, whether it is the way life lessons are learned so he can progress to the next level or the repetition of restarting after death, recalls the way players learn to progress through a computer game. Yet whilst its structure is obviously mechanical the film possesses a surprising amount of heart, particularly in the way it handles the central relationship and the toll it takes when seeing a person you care about repeatedly die.

Due to the nature of Cruise knowing more about Blunt’s character than she could possibly know about his the relationship is imbalanced. However, it is countered by the fact that Blunt’s character is very much his equal, and even superior in the opening half, meaning she is more than simply a damsel in distress for Cruise to rescue. Blunt hardly seems suitable super soldier material (or Full Metal Bitch as she is known by her colleagues) but she is surprisingly excellent both as a no-nonsense warrior and as a foil to Cruise.

It’s easy to be dismissive of Cruise with his beliefs and hyperactive displays of affection, but whatever he does away from the movies doesn’t change the fact he is a consummate professional in front of camera. Whilst other action stars are happy to pick up pay cheques and go through the motions, Cruise throws himself wholeheartedly into his roles. Naturally, the quality of the finished films vary greatly but Cruise’s commitment never wavers. Here he even has fun playing with his carefully constructed on-screen image as his cocksure persona is shown to be little more than a PR front.

For all my gushing praise Edge of Tomorrow is not a perfect film. With the odd exception, the supporting characters struggle to make a significant impression, the film’s climax lacks the energy of earlier set pieces and some of the action is occasionally neutered by its family friends rating. However, most of these complaints are largely unimportant when it gets so many other elements right whether it be the production design (the exoskeleton suits are particularly excellent), sharp and witty script or the film’s wonderful sense of momentum despite its constant recycling.

More like this please, Hollywood.

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