Edge of Tomorrow | C+
The comparisons to Groundhog Day were inevitable, if unoriginal — an indication of how film criticism has become an echo chamber of declared resemblances rather than an incisive exploration of what makes the Hollywood blockbuster tick. The comparison is also somewhat insulting to Harold Ramis’ beloved and profoundly humane comedy. Edge of Tomorrow doesn’t have a humanistic pixel in its digitally bloated body.
In Groundhog Day, Bill Murray torturously relives the same hopelessly ordinary day until he overcomes his relentless self-regard and emotional stagnancy. In Edge of Tomorrow, Tom Cruise gets caught in a time loop that forces him to go from cowardly PR liaison to super badass warrior. See the difference?
Many reviews have cited Starship Troopers, The Matrix, Saving Private Ryan and Duncan Jones’ underrated Source Code as influences on director Doug Liman’s passably entertaining summer action flick. And the likenesses are fair. Nothing in Edge of Tomorrow is particularly novel or inventive. But what most critics seem to miss is the true inspiration for the movie’s narrative style and approach: first-person shooter video games.
While Christopher McQuarrie and brothers Jez and John-Henry Butterworth may be working off Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s novelette All You Need Is Kill, the resulting movie isn’t just influenced by video game culture, it’s a cinematic replication of game play logic.
Let me explain: The central conceit of Edge of Tomorrow is that, during a horrific alien ground war, Major William Cage (Cruise) is killed in combat, but not before he’s splashed with blood from a rarely seen alpha invader. This chance event sends him back in time to re-experience the day all over again. Each time he’s killed he snaps back in time to replay the day’s many possible scenarios, until finally he figures out how to defeat Earth’s tentacle-flailing enemies.
Now, if you redefine Tom Cruise’s many deaths as simply returning to a video game’s last save point, the depressing template for Edge of Tomorrow’s narrative emerges. With little deviation, the story design follows a kill, misstep, die, reload, face a boss, level up, repeat pattern. Emily Blunt is on hand as battle-hardened soldier Rita Vrataski to offer Cruise’s Cage further training, exposition, and character interactions (but zero sexual chemistry), but really their relationship is little more than a series of video game cut-scenes.
Liman’s born-again blockbuster entertains in its first 40 minutes as it sets up its rewind-repeat premise, never quite letting on how much Cage knows and whether he’s been through a situation before. But that too-quickly fades in favor of loud, flashy battle scenes, bland action-flick plotting, and paper-thin supporting players. Edge of Tomorrow doesn’t even have the balls to lace in some impactful deaths. With the sole exception of a poorly timed roll under a truck, the violence lacks the kind of humor and creativity that someone like Paul Verhoeven might have brought to such a movie.
Had Liman brought the same level of vigor and purpose he brought to The Bourne Identity, his latest effort might have distinguished itself in a summer crowded with blockbusters that seem destined to disappoint. There is a trenchant metaphor to be mined about the monotony and futility of war here and, sadly, Edge of Tomorrow misses it in favor of the Sisyphean action of Call of Duty-style storytelling. It’s a commercial choice the once-promising Liman has clearly opted to embrace. He recently joined Ubisoft’s film production of Splinter Cell as director.
Edge of Tomorrow opens Friday, June 6. It is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 113 minutes.
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