With films like Top Gun, Minority Report, and the Mission Impossible franchise, Tom Cruise is the king of the modern action movie. While 80s action heroes like Stallone, Schwarzenegger, and Willis look like they’re going through the motions in their most recent movies, Cruise is a still believable and, more importantly, bankable star.
That’s why it would be easy for audiences to dismiss Edge of Tomorrow as just another Cruise-helmed action vehicle that’s only meant to rake in dollars at the box office and do little else, but they’d be remiss in doing so. I’m here to tell you that it’s time to reassess Edge of Tomorrow. Yes, it’s a summer blockbuster that has faded into relative obscurity over the years, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be valued for the true gem that it is and seen by more people.
Without a doubt, Edge of Tomorrow is the best science fiction/action hybrid since James Cameron’s Aliens. Believe me, that’s no small feat. It’s quick, thrilling, and at times scary, but it does it all while exploring the humanity and emotional life of its main characters. Unlike some of the newer Marvel and Star Wars films, it has scenes of character development to go along with its plot. In essence, it’s not your average popcorn flick; you’re supposed to learn something from this one.
So, without any further ado, let’s dive in.
“Live. Die. Repeat.“
Edge of Tomorrow follows Major William Cage (Tom Cruise), a public relations officer with no previous combat experience, as he is forced to take part in an upcoming ground invasion by General Brigham played by Brendan Gleeson (In Bruges, Harry Potter). After he’s killed in combat, however, Cage re-awakens to find that he’s caught in a time loop that sends him back to the day preceding the battle each time he dies.
Since Cage retains knowledge of what happens when the time loop resets, he must seek out the assistance of Sergeant Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), a legendary, badass soldier known as the “Angel of Verdun,” to break the loop and beat the alien invaders called Mimics.
In most action films, it’s the male who plays the guide to the central female character. While recent films like The Force Awakens have also subverted this trope, Edge of Tomorrow did it first and without calling direct attention to it.
“In these male-fueled genres,” commented Blunt, “it’s usually the woman who’s holding the hand of the guy and he’s running through explosions leading her, and I wanted to be doing the leading.”
Cruise, Blunt, Gleeson, and the late Bill Paxton as Master Sergeant Farell, are all top-notch in Edge of Tomorrow. If you want to see a movie full of A-List Hollywood talent firing on all cylinders, this is the movie to watch. There isn’t a weak link in the cast.
Based on Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s 2004 light novel All You Need is Kill, Edge of Tomorrow was passed through a rotating door of Hollywood writers before eventually landing at the feet of Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects).
If there’s one fault in the film, it’s the rise of an unnecessary romantic relationship between Cage and Vrataski and how the ending wraps. Director Doug Liman, who does a more than admirable job with the movie in most respects, opted to begin principal photography without having the ending of the picture figured out. You can only imagine how well that went.
“I was always arguing it has to end on the helicopter,” explained McQuarrie in an interview with Film School Rejects. “You have to be thrown back to wondering, ‘Did the movie even happen? Did any of this really happen?’ To that end, there were a million things you had to do with the writing and visually, to serve that ending. That presented a lot of challenges and debate for us. We really struggled to deliver what the movie needed to be emotionally. I know the ending was somewhat controversial, with some people who didn’t like it, but I think the only way to make those people happy would be to end the movie in a way that wasn’t happy. We weren’t interested in doing that. It needed to end in a way that wasn’t harsh.”
The Groundhog Day Effect
When it debuted in 2014, people often compared Edge of Tomorrow to the Bill Murray-helmed romantic comedy Groundhog Day (1993). In my opinion, it’s an easy and over-simplified comparison to make. Sure, both stories focus on a guy who is caught in a time loop and lives the same day over-and-over again, but that’s where the comparisons should cease. It’s just a generic plot device. If you disregard that element, the movies are wildly different. One film is about an abusive weather reporter who needs to find a heart and the other is about a pompous soldier who needs to learn the value of other people.
And one could argue that this plot device was invented by Charles Dicken’s in A Christmas Carol and that both Edge of Tomorrow and Groundhog Day are actually ripping off the English writer.
Don’t see it?
At its very essence, a character is given the opportunity to see their life from multiple angles. To learn, to better themselves, and, in the end, to help other people. For instance, in A Christmas Carol, our protagonist, Scrooge, is able to see the influence of his actions in the past, present, and future. In Edge of Tomorrow and Groundhog Day, the influence of our protagonist’s actions is made more immediate by having them view it on the same day repeatedly.
Many stories have used a time loop storytelling device; films like Happy Death Day, the under-seen Source Code, and Doctor Strange (somehow Strange escaped the Groundhog Day comparisons, however). And have you ever seen an episode of Star Trek? The Enterprise is CONSTANTLY getting trapped in a time loop.
All I’m trying to say is let this movie stand on its own two feet without dragging it down with a clickbait comparison; every story that utilizes a time loop should not be immediately compared to Groundhog Day. And this comparison did a great disservice to the film when it came out in 2014 and caused some people not to watch it. It notoriously underperformed at the box office.
If anything, Edge of Tomorrow should be compared to modern video games as Cage is “respawning” from his last “save point,” so to speak.
Going to War
When it came to the overall design, the production crew behind Edge of Tomorrow were shooting for something they labeled, “World War II of the future.” They wanted to give the hard-to-believe elements in the story (i.e. alien invaders called Mimics) a more grounded reality.
“We kind of look more at Saving Private Ryan or these kinds of movies or older war movies,” said Production Designer Oliver Scholl. “To say what is the feel of these and how can we get that into our movie? Without becoming about science fiction but becoming about those soldiers fighting.”
And just like Saving Private Ryan, this desaturated invasion also takes place on the beaches of Normandy. This choice lends the main battle sequence a sense of familiarity and we can better accept the reality of the more outlandish elements.
“I mean, the whole point is you kind of want to do that romantic war movie,” said Cruise. “It’s inspired by World War II. Even from the design, the wardrobe, and the structure of it being there on the beaches of Normandy. And it is a nightmare for this person.”
One of the most impressive practical effects that Edge of Tomorrow pulls off are the full-body exo-suits worn by the actors throughout the film. They aren’t doing any CGI trickery with those. The actors are actually wearing, and moving, in them.
“I showed up a couple of months early to really R&D the suit,” said Cruise. “And what we did was I put the suit on and we were working with it and getting into what the tone is because I know you have to see a progression of my character from where he starts in the exo-suit to where he ends, but you also have to find out what is the composition of the suit. The silhouette of the suit.”
At a time when CGI rules the cinema, most audiences will probably be surprised to see how much of Edge of Tomorrow is practical. Everything from explosions to actors being pulled by wires, it was all done in-camera. What about that beach they’re landing on for the invasion? Yeah, they built that.
“I’ve been in a lot of big movies that had a lot of effect sequences,” recounted Paxton, “but this thing, when they start setting off this stuff, there might be twenty-five explosions and rockets going off in any one take. You really don’t have to use your imagination at all. You’re just reacting to what they’re physically doing. It’s been pretty easy to play off of.”
A Second Look
If it’s been a while since you’ve sat down to watch Edge of Tomorrow or even if it’s the first time, there’s a lot to appreciate in this film. It explores gender roles, power dynamics, and the humanity of humankind. While it’s increasingly rare to see high-quality science fiction made for mass-audience appeal, Edge of Tomorrow is a shining example of what mainstream films could strive to achieve. It’s a striking balance of brains and brawn while also being a whole lot of fun.