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edge-of-tomorrow-poster2014

Genre: Action, Sci-Fi

Directed by: Doug Liman

Starring: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Brendan Gleeson, Bill Paxton

If one walks in to Edge Of Tomorrow with an inbuilt dislike of its leading man, then one is likely to find him or herself wrestling with their own opinions for much of the film’s first 20 minutes. For though Tom Cruise’s William Cage has the guise of a confident leader, it soon becomes clear that he is not another simple stock character. Driven by Doug Limen’s assured direction and Christopher McQuarrie’s deftly written script, Cruise’s against-type performance is just one of the many elements that infuses Edge Of Tomorrow’s high-conceptwith excitement and intrigue, bathing this stylish blockbuster with that most laudable of traits… substance.

Given the overcrowded market of generic alien invasion films we have had to endure over the last few years, including Cruise’s own Oblivion, you would be forgiven for approaching Edge Of Tomorrow with trepidation. Indeed, with the novel exception of seeing a helicopter land in the middle of a crowd-less Trafalgar Square, many of the film’s sluggish opening scenes do little to broaden our excitement.

We learn quite quickly that Cage is a coward; a PR man who is happy to encourage others to fight, but determined to not do so himself. Though Limen clearly craves our attention, McQuarrie’s muddled early scenes, which lead to Cage eventually finding himself forced to fight on the frontline, struggle to balance the storytelling with the satire. Even Cage’s first taste of battle on a Normandy Beach somehow feels underwhelming; with the camera zipping across scenes of destruction at a breakneck pace that offers little opportunity to feel invested in the action. Yet with the suddenness of a switch being flicked, Cage is killed on the beach… awakening moments later back at the barracks on the eve of the invasion.

Though you undoubtedly know the twist is coming, its impact is no less effective. Caught in a time loop that resets whenever he is killed, Cage begins looking for ways to develop his battle skills, eventually leading him to fight side-by-side with super soldier Rita; whose knowledge of Cage’s time traveling ability offers greater opportunities to defeat the enemy.

Doug Limen has forged a healthy career by mashing genres together and here, having laid the narrative groundwork, he displays a creative diversity and sense of excitement we haven’t seen since Mr. & Mrs. Smith. While Edge Of Tomorrow may be wholly familiar – particularly in light of its various filmic influence, which include Groundhog Day, The Matrix, and Starship Troopers to name but a few – it consistently feels fresh and engaging.

What particularly impresses is the film’s lightness of touch. Despite being set against the backdrop of a possibly unwinnable alien invasion, the film’s mood remains admirably upbeat throughout. McQuarrie’s script, co-written by Jez & John-Henry Butterworth, is imbued with a sense of wit and fun rarely found in today’s overpopulated world of Nolan-ized summer blockbusters.

Cruise is undoubtedly one of the key driving forces. Free from the constraints of his usual array of intensely brooding All-American heroes, the actor is able to let loose, developing an uncourageous central character that’s allowed to grow over time. Next to him, Emily Blunt’s hard-nosed warrior proves to be the perfect guide; with her steely persona and striking natural beauty effortlessly validating Rita’s contrasting nicknames as both an Angel and a Bitch.

Fundamental to the film’s success though is its ever-growing excitement. Narratively speaking, Limen & McQuarrie have a lot of fun playing around with the tropes of the time travel genre. That the amount of times Cage “resets” remains obscure is to the film’s advantage, constantly instilling the second act with a sense that everything is not as it seems. Certain sections of the plot, particularly as Cage and Rita close in on the McGuffin that’s key to ending the war, gnaw with tension as it becomes apparent to both Rita and us that Cage may already know what will happen.

Meanwhile, Limen and his cinematographer Dion Beebe inject the film with a sense of realism through the recurring tableaux of soldiers storming the Normandy beaches. While the frantic editing of the opening battle offers little opportunity to appreciate the stunning visual effects, later scenes are beautifully orchestrated; simultaneously intense, thrilling, and hauntingly evocative of Saving Private Ryan’s opening battle on Omaha Beach.

Unfortunately, such a high-concept naturally struggles to live up to its growing anticipation and, inevitably, the ending fails to deliver on the robust excitement of its extraordinary middle section. For more than just a moment though, Edge Of Tomorrow makes a determinedly keen bid to be the film of the summer; held together with valiant direction and a central performance from an actor whose career, much like his character, lives, dies and then repeats.

★★★

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