Tom Cruise reminds me of a person I know, in that if you told me that someone discovered a bunch of bodies in either of their back yards I wouldn’t be all that surprised. Under the extremely gregarious exterior, I wouldn’t find it that shocking that there beats the heart of a serial killer. There is something just too calculating and rehearsed about their carefully cultivated nice guy persona; in my mind it rings inauthentic. Of course there are nice people in the world, but something about him just rings false; I get the feeling that the Tom Cruise that we see on interviews is just another role that he’s playing, like this is what he thinks a normal person should act like. He reminds me a lot of the character Dexter, played by Michael C. Hall on the Showtime series. Now, while it is more likely that Cruise is probably hiding the fact that at a bare minimum he’s a little weird, if ten years from now we find out that he’s been up to something far more sinister I’m going to look like a genius. I’m not rooting for it, but I’m telling you something about that guy is off.
My metric for Tom Cruise movies, therefore, is pretty simple – can he disappear enough into the role that I forget that he is probably coo-coo banana pants? If that happens, chances are pretty high that I’ll enjoy the movie. When all I see is Tom Cruise, the likelihood that I’m going to like the film is negligible (Jack Reacher, for example). While I’m suspicious of Cruise the man, I’ve never questioned Cruise the actor – he’s capable of good work, though I don’t think he necessarily is great at picking the best roles for himself. He has carved a place out for himself in movies that are filled with action – an arena where he does do a good job – though I tend to enjoy him more in supporting roles where he plays against type. Give me Magnolia and Tropic Thunder over films where Cruise just runs a lot any day. His action movies are generally entertaining, but I think he’s unnecessarily limiting himself. He can do more challenging stuff.
While Edge of Tomorrow is basically in keeping with the sort of films that Cruise has been doing lately, there are some subtle differences that make his performance, and therefore the film, more interesting. Unlike most of the characters that he plays, Major William Cage is not a guy for whom being an action hero comes easily. We’re used to Cruise playing the tough guy who is always ready to rumble and seems unbreakable; in Edge of Tomorrow, he plays a military man that wants nothing to do with actual combat. He’s a PR guy – he’s great at selling a war but has no interest in actually participating in one and will do anything necessary to avoid it. He’s ill equipped to be any sort of real hero and it is a real change of pace to see Cruise play something that he’s not played in a long time – a dude that is scared. In this film, we see Cruise struggle and fail – and Edge of Tomorrow is the better for it.
I think that Jimmy Fallon described the movie best when he said that Edge of Tomorrow is “Groundhog Day meets Call of Duty.” It’s a sentiment that I’m sure Fallon didn’t originate, but after seeing the film it strikes me as the perfect encapsulation of what the viewing experience is like. The Earth has been invaded by creatures called mimics that are slowly taking over the planet. After the first major victory of the humans against the creatures, Major William Cage (Cruise) is sent to the front lines against his will. Unprepared for battle, Cage dies quickly but not before taking out one of the mimics. However, when he opens his eyes, he realizes that he is not dead but rather he has somehow re-set the day. He lives through the exact same experiences over and over – every time he dies, the day begins again. He can adjust his behavior to events because he knows what is going to happen; in a lot of ways, it’s the same thing as when you are playing a video game – your player may “die,” but you just start the level over at the last checkpoint. During these “re-dos” he meets war hero Rita Vrataski (a very buff Emily Blunt), who understands what is happening to him. The two of them team up to try and use his ability to save humanity and defeat the mimics.
The idea of rebooting the day is not necessarily a novel one; not only was it used in Groundhog Day, but it was also the main gimmick of the truly dreadful Vantage Point. It is a useful trick to have in your bag, but it can’t be overused or it becomes tedious. The viewer doesn’t want to watch the same thing over and over again with very little altered; that is just a really boring movie. Edge of Tomorrow uses this particular hook mostly effectively, though they go to that well one too many times in my opinion. The repeated scenes are mostly abbreviated, which for that I am thankful, but after re-seeing the same general scenes multiple times my mind started to wander a bit. This means that there is something of a lull in the middle of the movie where there just isn’t a lot of forward momentum; it’s fun to see Cruise die a few times, but after the fifth time in a row even that loses some of its novelty. The film picks back up again when they finally have some forward momentum and make it further in their mission than they have to date. The overuse of the technique doesn’t derail the movie, but it does slow it down a bit and allows interest to wane.
The action sequences and explosions in the film are pretty spot on and are entertaining; the first time that Cruise goes into battle you really get the sense of discombobulation and confusion. Cruise serves as our proxy, running around and just trying not to die while not even being sure how to turn off the safety on his weapon. One of the things that I appreciated about Edge of Tomorrow is that the movie doesn’t get weighed down in backstory – the film doesn’t really make any attempt to explain what these mimics want or even much about what they are. As Cruise says in one particular scene, none of that really matters – the mimics are here and they have to be dealt with. Their motivation is really irrelevant. I liked that Edge of Tomorrow didn’t fall into the trap of trying to drum up some ridiculous explanation or build a mythology. Mimics are bad and need to be killed – that’s enough for me. By not devoting a lot of time to the backstory, the film can instead concentrate on the important stuff in the action. Well played, Edge of Tomorrow writers.
Cruise clearly has his action hero bona fides, but it was nice to see Emily Blunt more than hold her own in a genre that is relatively new to her. I thought that she was great as Rita; she was stoic and tough and a total bad ass. I liked that the roles were reversed in Edge of Tomorrow and that Blunt was the one that was training Cruise; it’s nice to see a woman take the lead and serve as a mentor to the man for a change. Cruise and Blunt had fairly good chemistry, though I didn’t buy any sort of latent romantic interest and I wish that the writers hadn’t have gone down that route. They can care about each other without falling in love. That wrinkle just didn’t work for me.
Some other thoughts:
- As I was walking to my theater, I passed the first screening of The Fault in Our Stars and there was audible shrieking by the girls in the audience over the excitement of seeing the film. I’m sure that similar things happened with Twilight (it didn’t happen at the midnight screening of the first Hunger Games movie), but it was crazy to hear. I also had to laugh at the line of bored looking dads that were sitting outside the theater waiting to pick up their moppets after the movie.
- Here’s a “definitive” ranking of Tom Cruise running in movies.
- Tom Cruise dies a bunch of times in the film, but according to Emily Blunt she almost killed him in real life too.
- I think it is a contractual obligation that Tom Cruise gets to ride a motorcycle in his movies. He inexplicably does so in this one.
- You know the drill – I skipped on seeing this one in 3-D.
- Emily Blunt was pregnant with her first child (with hubby John Krasinski) during the reshoots for Edge of Tomorrow; she talks about baby Hazel in this clip from The Graham Norton Show:
- Will Smith and Tom Cruise should team up for a movie – they both enjoy battling aliens.
Edge of Tomorrow was generally good, though I was not completely won over by it. Perhaps I was just not in the mood for this type of movie, but I did find it was too boring in spots – and not just the constant rebooting. Though the film doesn’t spend a lot of time creating the rules for the premise of the movie, I still found myself questioning some of the developments as big plot holes. There is a scene where Cruise seems to have an awful lot of knowledge about a group of people that we never see him spend much time with in any of the reboots; I guess the idea is that he specifically went back to get this info to become more persuasive, but that seemed like a bit of a stretch for me. I also wish that there was a little more humor in the film – there are a few laughs, but Edge of Tomorrow takes itself very seriously. I could have used a little more levity. I liked the film OK, but I’m nowhere near as enthusiastic as the rest of critics – the film is currently hovering around 90% on Rotten Tomatoes, which seems really high to me. I would have put this solidly at 82%. It was good, but not great and I can’t really fawn all over it and be representative of my movie experience. Perhaps I am, as my friend Mike said, getting jaded.