It's a weary task to be a Tom Cruise apologist, partly because of his real-life antics over the years but mostly because so many people can't look beyond them. I admittedly judge celebrities as much as the next person, but, for whatever reason, Cruise has always been a sacred cow to me. I find his movies eminently rewatchable—leave aside The Last Samurai and Lions for Lambs—and I frankly don't care about his religious beliefs or his family matters. He's rare among actors in knowing what roles perfectly suit his talents (e.g., Les Grossman in Tropic Thunder—who does that?), and he fully commits himself to every character.
Director: Doug Liman
Producers: Jason Hoffs, Gregory Jacobs, Tom Lassally, Jeffrey Silver, Erwin Stoff
Writers: Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, Hiroshi Sakurazaka (novel)
Cinematographer: Dion Beebe
Editor: James Herbert
Music: Christophe Beck
Cast: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Brendan Gleeson, Bill Paxton, Jonas Armstrong, Tony Way, Kick Gurry, Franz Drameh, Dragomir Mrsic, Charlotte Riley, Masayoshi Haneda
US Theatrical Release: June 6, 2014
US Distributor: Warner Bros.
Sadly for me, it appears his traditional acting days may be over. A three-time Oscar nominee (who should've also received nods for Rain Man and A Few Good Men, at the very least), Cruise hasn't earned his paycheck the old-fashioned way since Collateral nearly a decade ago. Instead, and perhaps realizing he'd never receive the respect he deserves as a serious actor, he’s fully given himself over to action franchises. Seems an odd career reset at age 51, but if The Expendables trilogy has proven anything it's that in Hollywood, age ain't nothing but a number (at least for men, of course).
If there is a silver lining for fans of the old Tom Cruise, it's that character-heavy blockbusters like Edge of Tomorrow, the underrated Oblivion last year, and even Jack Reacher the year before that, allow Cruise to keep his acting muscles in good shape—and for that matter, his actual muscles as well. The man is evidently ageless, which makes him an ironically rich casting choice for Edge of Tomorrow. Based on the novel All You Need is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, the adaptation directed by Doug Liman offers a terribly stale set-up (aliens invade Earth, the enlightened Western world comes to the rescue) that can only be saved by on-screen charisma and unexpected plot twists. Fortunately we’re offered both in sufficient quantity here, and Edge of Tomorrow succeeds as a smart blockbuster, albeit it an oddly familiar one.
Cruise stars as Major William Cage, a smarmy spokesperson for the United Defense Force (UDF), a global coalition formed to combat an invincible alien species of rabid octopuses known as Mimics. Nobody knows their origin or motive, but the Mimics have laid waste to Western Europe and are greedily marching onward to annihilate the rest of humankind. Not surprisingly, the UDF is having trouble fielding new recruits, and its Cage’s job to sell the war—and the UDF’s gimmicky protective exoskeletons—to a horrified public. A contrived plot development puts Cage himself on the front lines of a D-Day-like offensive against the Mimics (literally storming the beaches at Normandy). Untrained and unhinged, he doesn’t last more than a few minutes in battle before meeting a grisly death. And then he wakes up, 24 hours earlier.
What follows is a seemingly endless cycle of death and reawakening that bends but doesn’t quite break the rules of basic logic, even considering it’s a time travel movie about alien invaders. Edge of Tomorrow is thankfully unencumbered by gratuitous exposition, and respects your intelligence enough to understand what’s going on even if you can’t quite articulate it (and if it’s all just too bewildering, it hardly matters). It doesn’t deviate from its path to a predictable ending, but remains engaging in large part thanks to Cruise, and also because, let’s face it: Edge of Tomorrow is a video game fantasy brought to life, in which you can repeatedly die but still gradually advance to the next stage as you learn from your mistakes. As an added bonus, the screenplay avoids the distracting romance that begs to be pursued between Cage and his battle-tested mentor, the unfortunately named Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt). The two actors play off each other wonderfully, and Cruise can’t help but look like he’s having fun delivering punch lines followed by his trademark grin.
But Edge of Tomorrow is a summer blockbuster that must appeal to the populist masses, and its efforts to do so are almost its downfall. Although it’s been most closely compared to Groundhog Day, it reminded me as much if not more of countless sci-fi action flicks of the last few years—notably District 9 and Source Code, but also Avatar, Elysium, Transformers, Looper, and, tragically, Jumper, also directed by Doug Liman (anyone who saw it would wish to die and relive the day beforehand). I’ve honestly just grown bored with the same gritty aesthetic in so many of these movies: the dystopian newsreel footage from the future, the similar looking spaceships and spacesuits and soldiers and weapons and sound effects and alien species. The storming of the beaches at Normandy is certainly a grand spectacle in Edge of Tomorrow, but even that’s distractingly derivative of Saving Private Ryan.
Ultimately I just wish that a director would think outside the box in bringing science fiction to the screen, such as in recent years with Cloverfield, The Host, Europa Report, or heck, even the stylistic flourishes in the Spielberg-Cruise collaborations Minority Report and War of the Worlds. It doesn’t take much, but it takes something. I’m happy enough to be entertained by Tom Cruise in whatever role he plays, but for what it truly might have been in the hands of a more inventive director, Edge of Tomorrow seems a bit lacking, and could have used a few more refining turns through the “Live. Die. Repeat.” cycle.