Doug Liman is one of Hollywood’s strangest moviemakers. He’s like a genius kid in a china shop, as hundreds of enablers scramble to keep up with him, but the end results are almost always dazzling, from “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” to the first “Bourne” movie.
Note that Universal did not bring him back to the series. Don’t ask producer Frank Marshall what it was like working with him on that movie. And yet “Edge of Tomorrow,” once all the editors and VFX supervisors have finished their contributions–the credits for this costly epic go on for miles–is superb. Painful –and expensive–as it was for all concerned, it was worth it. Liman has a gift for off-center authenticity–even amid the orchestrated chaos of a major studio FX picture–and for finding moments on the fly that snap. His movies are hugely entertaining, often amusing, never predictable.
In this case he is well-served by a brilliant mindbending script by Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth & John-Henry Butterworth (Liman’s “Fair Game” and “Jerusalem”), adapting Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s novel, which keeps us on the edge of surprise. And Tom Cruise, 51, is perfectly cast as a Cage, a cocky Army PR man who is sent to the front by General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) in a last-ditch assault on an army of aliens threatening to destroy the Earth. Our fish-out-of-water Everyman, terrified and untrained, tries to get out of serving. “I’ll never be combat-ready,” he says.
But Master Sergeant Farrell (a terrific Bill Paxton) won’t let him escape his duty. When Cage stumbles onto the beach under intense assault, he combats one terrifying giant alien that covers him with goo–and suddenly wakes up to start his day all over. Recognizing what he has to achieve to defeat these skittery whip-fast alien fighters, it doesn’t take long for Cage to turn into our fantasy gun-blasting action hero: with every go-round he gets smarter and more fierce, training with another star soldier (excellent Emily Blunt) who he comes to admire (the romance is not overdone), but has to watch getting killed, again and again. He has to bring her up to speed each time.
Early reviews for “Edge of Tomorrow” are pretty great. With an 89% fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes, word-of-mouth should be strong, but it remains to be seen whether audiences will show in greater numbers than other recent Cruise outings. (Reviews and trailer below.)
Variety’s Justin Chang wrote that the Cruise vehicle is “cleverly crafted and propulsively executed”:
This enjoyably gimmicky entertainment is not only one of Cruise’s better recent efforts, it’s also arguably the most purely pleasurable film Doug Liman has directed in the 12 years since “The Bourne Identity.”
Credited to three screenwriters, including The Usual Suspects Oscar-winner Christopher McQuarrie, Edge of Tomorrow gets a surprising amount of mileage out of its central premise. Even if you haven’t experienced this loop-de-loop conceit before, there’s a worry that the film’s repetition of events will become, well, repetitive. So tip your cap to director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Mr & Mrs. Smith) and editor James Herbert for figuring out how to balance Cage’s growing frustration with moments of hopefulness as the character gradually makes progress toward finding the Omega.
Edge of Tomorrow is magnificent. The movie positively pulses with adrenaline, reflected in its powerful performances, clever cuts and its fluid yet exhilarating cinematography that weaves around heroes, explosions, and spiraling space monsters. Edge of Tomorrow will leave you breathless and grinning. Simply put, this is why we go to the movies.
Liman gives editor James Herbert (“Sherlock Holmes”) a lot to work with, giving us different angles on repeated scenes (except when making them identical is part of the joke); for a film about repetition, “Edge of Tomorrow” never feels tired or familiar.If there’s anything disappointing about the film, it involves the ending; it’s a defensible one, but everything leading up to it fooled me into expecting something smarter or more daring. Ultimately, though, “Edge of Tomorrow” feels sharper and more clever than it might have been in other hands, and for a big summer star vehicle, that’s surprise enough.
Although the humor helps, the Groundhog Day-like repetition gets tedious; it makes you feel more like a hamster than a groundhog — or rather a hamster’s wheel, going round and round, over and over again. Unfortunately, the final stretch becomes dramatically unconvincing and visually murky.