Doug Liman‘s Edge of Tomorrow (Warner Bros., 6.6), which I saw last night at a public-access sneak at the Pathe Wepler in Place Clichy, is an A-level, full-throttle, brain-tease-y sci-fi thriller and (don’t take this the wrong way) a videogame movie of the highest order. I realize, obviously, that “videogame movie” is a perjorative but this pleasure puppy knows how to smarten the material and make it seem…well, a bit deeper than it actually is. It’s basically about failing and learning, failing and learning, failing and learning a bit more. It’s Groundhog Day meets Starship Troopers meets Playstation 4. And it’s not overlong or draggy or anything but super-efficient. It’s over before you know it.
The film, written by Chris McQuarrie and the Butterworth brothers (Jez and John-Henry), is about a military campaign to defeat a massive alien invasion of Europe that is much more dominating than anything Nazi Germany managed. (Next Friday’s opening day is the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion.) The alien army is composed of “mimics,” which are mechanical spider-octopus monsters that number in the hundreds of thousands and are controlled…is this a spoiler?…by a big, glowing, spherical, electric-blue super-brain called “Omega.”
The hook is that three players — Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt on the weapons-bearing, combat-ready, above-the-title side, plus a nerdy, exposition-providing scientist played by Noah Taylor — are part of a continual time-repeat cycle. (I’m not going to explain how or why.) And throughout the film they’re faced with a series of formidable (i.e., scary as shit) combat challenges and obstructions that can and do result in getting “killed” over and over but instantly reborn each time. This allows them to learn from mistakes and possibly even win if — big “if” — he/she can get past these hurdles and zero in on the Big Target (i.e, “Omega”), which is roughly analogous to the “sum of all intelligence” Mr. Fishbowl guy in William Cameron Menzies‘ Invaders From Mars.
Yes, Cruise starts out as a slick-willy public-relations officer who’s thrown into battle by…I’m actually not sure why but I’ll figure it out eventually. Yes, he’s completely without combat training and is extremely reluctant if not horrified at what he’s suddenly being told to do, and yes, he dies many, many, many times. But the learning-the-ropes stuff only occupies the first 35% or 40% of the film.
Does Tomorrow deliver the Zen-fable resonance of Groundhog Day? No. In fact it would be a stretch to call it thoughtful. Depth is not what it’s selling. It’s not even especially emotional. But that’s okay because it’s very skillfully written with just enough exposition to keep you intrigued but at the same time holding back a little, etc. It’s also superbly cut and technically dazzling but familiar because it is a combat film first and foremost, and it really does deliver thrills like a first-rate game, and that — be honest — is what a good portion of the under-40s are looking for anyway.
The measure of the success of this thing is that even I, a saliva-spitting hater of the videogame/themepark aesthetic that has colored summer-tentpole movies for the last 25 years or more…even I had a really good (i.e., fully engaged, alert, non-frustating) time with Edge of Tomorrow.
This is about as earnest a compliment as I can give to a film like this, but Edge of Tomorrow never pisses you off by dumbing anything down. And it doesn’t play as repetitiously as you might expect. The big third-act finale in a waterlogged Paris somehow doesn’t quite ring the big gong, but by the time the film has done so much that is smart and satisfying and generally on-the-money that you’re inclined to cut it a break.
As of today (Saturday, 5.31) Edge of Tomorrow has a 95% RT rating.