In his current film, Tom Cruise dies. And he's never been better.
Since I’m writing this review for a Catholic website, I’m guessing it is probably okay if I make a confession: I have always had an irrational aversion to Tom Cruise. Since that moment ages ago when I first saw him appear onscreen in the 1981 military school drama, “Taps,” his very appearance has irked me. I don’t know why. When I was younger, I assumed it was something wrong with him, but now that I am older, I realize it probably just has something to do with me.
Still, whatever the reason for my personal hang-up with Cruise, it hasn’t blinded me to the fact that the man has talent. With the right script and the right director at his disposal, I’ll be the first to admit Cruise can turn in fine performances. He more than earned his Oscar nod for “Magnolia.” But when the material is weak or inappropriate (“Rock of Ages”? Really?), I can barely stand to keep my eyes on the screen when the camera focuses on him. I’m not saying it’s fair–I’m just saying it’s true.
I’m admitting this little psychological glitch of mine to all of you so that you’ll understand why it’s kind of a big deal for me to say that, yes, I actually really enjoyed watching Tom Cruise’s new movie, “Edge of Tomorrow.” It’s a brisk sci-fi action movie with a (mostly) well written script and some good performances. Plus, (I’ll guiltily admit) I believe it benefits greatly from having Tom Cruise die horribly over and over again. He’s impaled, crushed, blasted, drowned, and even has his face melted off. And, it’s hilarious almost every time this happens. Finally, here is a Tom Cruise movie that lets me indulge in both my film critic’s respect for the man’s craft and my inner adolescent’s fantasy of seeing terrible things happen to the guy. I’m not proud. I’m just being honest about it.
Aside from this, the movie wants you to laugh at the dilemma Cruise’s character faces. As you may have gathered from the advertisements, “Edge of Tomorrow” takes the general premise of “Groundhog Day” and inserts it into a “Starship Troopers”-like setting. When the decidedly non-combat ready Major William Cage (Cruise) is forced to participate in a D-Day-like invasion against alien forces occupying France, he is killed almost immediately. As he lies dying, however, he is doused in the blood of an Alpha, one of the rarely seen commanders of the alien forces. This literal bloodbath unexpectedly grants Cage the ability to re-set time back to the day before his demise. Armed with the knowledge of which tactics didn’t work before, Cage gets to try time and again to survive the battle and find a way to defeat the invaders.
Basically, Cage is turned into a living video-game avatar. He begins to learn at which points he should turn in a certain direction or duck his head in order to avoid death. When he is inevitably killed again, everything re-sets, and he tries once more. As in any video game, there are frustrating moments when Cage just can’t seem to find the right sequence of moves to get past an obstacle, and the movie plays the comedic potential of these scenes to the hilt. At a time when most blockbusters seem to be settling for sturm und drang, “Edge of Tomorrow” veers in the opposite direction and devotes a lot of its running time to humor. I have to say, it’s a welcome change of pace.
Helping Cruise along with all the funny is Bill Paxton as Master Sergeant Farell, the leader of the squad of losers and misfits Cage is assigned to, and Emily Blunt as Rita Vrataski, a veteran special forces warrior who temporarily had the same time travel powers as Cage. Paxton is tailor-made for roles like the half-crazed drill instructor and he practically steals every scene he appears in. Blunt’s character fares a little worse as she is essentially assigned the task of playing straight man and love interest to Cruise, but the actress imbues Rita with such a single minded determination that she turns what could have been a thankless role into a comedic asset. Whenever things begin to look hopeless, and Cage gets puppy-eyed with sentiment over his growing attachment to the woman warrior, Rita simply pulls out a gun and puts a bullet in his head, so they can start over again.
Sure, the reset gag is one that could easily get old if handled poorly, but the clever script keeps things interesting as Cage and Rita inch closer to their goal. In fact, it’s only when the film abandons the time-traveling element near the end that it falters and feels like just another blow-it-all-up blockbuster. As likable as the film makes all of its characters (yes, even Cruise), it still rises and falls on its gimmick, and it suffers when the gimmick goes away.
Yet, it’s an appealing idea–the notion that you could have the chance to go back and correct things until you get them right. The time you hurt someone’s feelings, the time you messed up on the job, the time that you could have helped someone and didn’t–all of it could be fixed if you just had the opportunity to step back in time and do it all over again.
That’s not how it works in real life, though, is it? As the Bible tells us in the "Letter to the Hebrews," “It is appointed that human beings die once.” That means we only get one chance to do things right. There’s a wisdom to that. Given unlimited chances to re-set history, someone like myself might not even try to get things right the first few hundred times. I can easily see myself taking a few dozen lifetimes to sit around doing nothing but watching movies, surfing the Net, and maybe playing some of those video games “Edge of Tomorrow” resembles. With only one shot at everything, taking the time to develop things like maturity, responsibility, and an informed faith sounds like a wiser plan of action.
That doesn’t mean imagining what it would be like to be able to reset things isn’t fun, however, and that’s one of the main reasons “Edge of Tomorrow” works. While it’s not a deep-thinking movie by any standard, given its time-travel hijinks, it’s a solid, fun action film that doesn’t skimp on the humor or the characters. And–let’s not forget–it pretend-kills Tom Cruise hundreds and hundreds of times. What’s not to like about that?
In a world he didn’t create, in a time he didn’t choose, one man looks for signs of God in the world by… watching movies. When he’s not reviewing new releases for Aleteia, David Ives spends his time exploring the intersection of low-budget/cult cinema and Catholicism at The B-Movie Catechism.