- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.
Best Defense movie reviewer
Let’s cut to the chase. “Edge of Tomorrow,” Tom Cruise’s latest action vehicle, is a clever and great film. It is receiving favorable reviews (89% on Rotten Tomatoes) but is sadly dying ‘over and over again’ as a box office bomb. EoT opened with a paltry $20+ M in domestic box office for a $170 M tent pole movie. This is a shame, because it’s a great movie with a vision of war not far off from today’s reality.
Because other critics do plot summary much better than I can I’ll refer you to the other reviews – or you can just go in cold like we used to before Sneak Previews. Many reviews invoke Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day as inspiration, but it is also appropriate to reference the classic military lesson book The Defence of Duffer’s Drift. That said, if you can’t get past whirling, invading, alien bad-guys and time travel you will not enjoy the film. But you should try anyway.
The film is based off a manga novel All You Need Is Kill, by Hiroshi Sakurazaka. The fact that Hollywood mostly ignores that genre — in favor of yet another Transformers sequel or other such garbage — is another good reason to give this movie a chance. But EoT earns a viewing with its crackling energy, dark humor, and its attention to military detail.
Cruise plays against his normal type. As Major Cage he’s a coward of a public affairs officer ordered to accompany the invasion of Europe — another D-Day at Normandy. His foolish actions cost him his rank and place him exactly where he doesn’t want to be. But part of the virtue of EoT is that he learns to be a better soldier and a better person. His character has a good development arc as he moves through a sort of Kubler-Ross model of death and dying…over and over again.
Some good things:
- Cage has to learn how to fight, and he does so by engaging in life-threatening (and life-ending) training. He overcomes his fears in the process of his practice.
- The military-tech is near future with “Jacket” DARPA-esque exoskeletons and overgrown Osprey-like aircraft that are just short of real. Ammo supply (though enormous) and battery life is expended and must be refilled. This actually affects the story.
- Courses of action are explored and found to be lacking, assessed then re-explored. It’s like rehearsal, AAR, execution!
- The aliens rely on deception plans. Human success relies upon unraveling those deceptions.
- The other hero of the film is a woman; she’s a stripped down, hardcore, special operator of a woman. Emily Blunt, also playing against type, is the biggest, badass female since Linda Hamilton field stripped an M4 in Terminator 2. But other than the tacked on, minor smooch scene mid-flick you wouldn’t/shouldn’t care about her gender in the least. (ESIII calm down, it’s a movie). BONUS: She mows down waves of enemy with a helicopter blade sword.
- Cage has to earn the respect of other soldiers through hard work — and precognition.
- There’s some glaring plotholes, snore-worthy exposition, and one huge MacGuffin. But it’s an alien monster movie so I’ll cut EoT some slack.
- Bill Paxton (who played a great coward himself in Aliens) is an over-the-top cliché as Kentucky-bred MSG Farrell. He has some great Drill SGT lines, but it wears thin quickly.
- The squad mates are also poorly-drawn clichés. But they are so secondary to the plot it hardly hurts.
- Tom Cruise ultimately gets a big hero finish, saves the day and scores a disappointing coda, but did you expect anything else?
Indeed, the last caution may be what is damning this superb movie to second rate status. People appear so tired of Cruise’s personal life that they are unwilling to reward him at the box office. That is a shame, because Cruise does a super job and EoT is an excellent military sci-fi film. I enjoyed it, a lot, and I wasn’t embarrassed to cheer, or kick, or fist pump at the theater…because I was, literally, THE ONLY PERSON THERE. Buy a matinee ticket if you must, or use that senior citizen discount. Go see Edge of Tomorrow, then discuss.