Tom Cruise’s usual fare is to turn up, look stony-faced, athletically throw himself onto some bad guys, then pocket the pay-check and return home. But the best parts of his latest blockbuster, Edge of Tomorrow, allows us to see the true acting chops that he possess. Cruise plays Major William Cage, a slick PR man for the army who, in an actual fighting scenario, couldn’t beat a mouse in combat. After he tries to blackmail a dour Brendan Gleeson, he gets labelled as a deserter and, to his horror, shipped off to the front lines. The front lines, in this case, happen to be Europe, which has been conquered by a mysterious alien force called the Mimics. Consisting of a bunch of flailing orange and blue 3D tentacles,, these annoyingly vague CGI monsters kill Cage within minutes of his first day of battle. This results in an initially unexplained Groundhog Day for Cage, in which he relives the same day again and again, each time being slaughtered in a different inventive way, sometimes quite humorously.
Cruise’s character initially subverts our expectations of the tough guy actor. He’s inept, cowardly, and has no idea what to do with a weapon. They make use of the actor’s height (he’s only 5ft 5) and the clunky armoured suit he wears to truly make him stand out among the other, more efficient soldiers. The little touches, such as his helmet being loose, make it intriguing, different and very funny. Indeed, it’s his performance combined with the film’s clever premise which allows the first hour to whizz by, full of rather effective humour. Emily Blunt, on the other hand, plays the ‘Angel of Verdun’ (or ‘Full Metal Bitch’, the best soldier in the human army. She’s tough, relentless, and intelligent – and Blunt’s performance does her justice. But I can’t lie – there’s more romantic chemistry between a square peg and a round hole than there is between Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt. They’re both two competent actors, but anything more than a forged-in-battle friendship seems very implausible in the context of the movie.
The armed forces of the film attempt a D-Day landing on the beaches of Normandy, where they are hopelessly outgunned. Cruise’s stumbling steps in his armoured suit, combined with the terrifyingly close 3D cinematography make for a very exciting and almost scary experience. It’s very similar to Saving Private Ryan, with shaky camera, a grey/khaki colour scheme, and earthy explosions everywhere. In 3D it’s a very intense, heart-pumping experience, and one of the highlights of the movie. It feels real and dangerous – and more importantly, un-Hollywood. The cherries on the cake, like the actors being adorned in dirt, blood and unkempt hairdos elevate the movie a few levels. It’s a shame that the thrills soon run dry when we stop giving two shits about the protagonist’s survival – it’s a downside of the premise that every time Cruise bites the dust, we disengage a little bit more with the otherwise excellent battle scenes.
Unfortunately, it’s revealed at around two-thirds through, that the premise, Cruise’s character and the powerful action sequences were the only interesting things about the film. Without giving away the plot, the premise disappears, which allows the film to slump back into a more conventional and safe third act. Cruise’s character trains up his fighting skills, which is perfectly believable but sadly means that the talented actor slides into Ethan Hunt for the last half an hour (complete with inhuman strength and agility, quite a bit of luck and furrowed-brow action). The grey sand of the beach is left behind for action scenes that lack the intensity of the first few. The ending, although well executed, is boring and unadventurous.
Edge of Tomorrow is better than your average summer flick. The first hour hints at something far more powerful than the final product turned out to be. The film probes at deeper themes and meanings, suggesting a very human story buried somewhere under the sands of these beach attacks. However, at its peak it doesn’t quite grasp it, and proceeds to plummet back down to conventional fare. Still, the action is fucking brilliant in 3D.