Tom Cruise’s character Cage is a military spokesman, a draft dodger who found the best way to avoid combat was to enlist. He smugly puts a positive spin on five years worth of failed conflicts with an alien race that’s methodically captured much of Europe. After the humans miraculously win their first battle in Verdun, the military plans an all-out assault around a landing on the beaches of Normandy.
How then to read Tom Cruise in “Edge of Tomorrow”? It’s tempting when dealing with an actor who’s actively shaped his films around his desired screen persona to read his work as biography. Within twenty minutes you’ll see that famous, still boyish face dissolved in blue acid. Even with a conceit that allows Cruise to achieve a divine level of weapons-mastery, he never seems like more than a sidekick to Emily Blunt. Is this penance through action-oriented sci fi?
With Cruise at the lead, there’s no need to explain the actions of General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson). Certainly sending an untrained soldier to fight on the front lines in the initial wave of an assault is tantamount to murder. Plucking that untrained soldier from a different army to send him to a certain death implies an obsession with a basis in a past misdeed. What could have Cage possibly done to deserve such treatment? It’s never said or implied. That’s okay since we know what Cruise has done ever since his couch-jumping antics on Oprah’s old daily talk show. He’s been a smug pariah inspiring all the wrong emotions from a once fawning audience. It’s Cruise that needs to be taken down a peg moreso than Cage, right?
Regardless, Cruise is fully game here. That means paradoxically deferring to Emily Blunt’s Rita who’s introduced as a perfect warrior (“Angel of Verdun” in the press and “Full Metal Bitch” to the fellow servicemen) and does little to dispel that impression when finally arriving in the flesh. She’s not so much invulnerable as hardened emotionally with a human core that Cage with an infinite number of attempts never quite penetrates. That Rita’s good-luck kiss to Cage was unscripted should tell you all there is know about the chemistry between the leads. Blunt famously decreed that she never wanted to be a simple “spear carrier in a Tom Cruise movie,” but has spent too much of her career under the protection of her male costars. If any good comes from Edge of Tomorrow, maybe some Hollywood executive will give Blunt a shot at leading an actioner herself.
While Edge of Tomorrow is derived from a manga, the rhythms of the picture owe a great deal to video games, particularly first person shooters. There’s a sense of dying again and again while tracing the routes of all the NPCs (non-playable-characters). When Cage invariably loses the ability to replay time it feels like the extended final stage where a save point is nowhere to be found. For decades describing a film as a “video game” was meant as fatal slight, but that comparison was unfair. The first generation to grow up with video games as a central part of pop culture is just starting to amass a filmography.
Edge of Tomorrow broke $100 million at the box but was far from a success. Despite the positive word-of-mouth from audiences, it slunk out of theaters rather quickly. Blame for this was originally foisted on fatigue with its lead star, but the eventual culprit became the generic name. The subsequent DVD/Blu-Ray release emphasized the film’s tag line “Live Die Repeat” above the title. Red Boxes reportedly even file the film under the tag line. That seems like a bit of a stretch. Action movies are still lucrative at the box office, but only properties with existing fan bases (comic books, novels) seem to break into the mega dollars. That aside, neither “Live. Die. Repeat” or “Edge of Tomorrow” improve over the title of the source material “All You Need Is Kill” which sounds like a perfect Tarantino creation.