UK Release Date: May 30th, 2014 (seen at a cinema on the same day I watched Godzilla)
Running Time: 99 mins.
Director: Doug Liman
Writer: Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth (Screenplay), Hiroshi Sakurazaka (Original Novel)
Starring: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton, Brendan Gleeson, Charlotte Riley, Noah Taylor, Franz Drameh, Madeleine Mantock,
Warning Spoilers for some of Tom Cruise’s earlier films in the opening paragraph:
Tom Cruise dies in this one. Not that revealing his character’s death spoils the movie. Edge of Tomorrow is based on a novel where the main protagonist dies quite a bit. That’s what makes the film surprisingly fun. Of course, A-list Hollywood actors can die and even Tom kicks the bucket in a number of his own films like The Last Samurai and Collateral but few films take great delight showing Tom get crushed, shot, impaled, drowned, blown up, and more in all manners of inventive and grisly ways over and over again in a smart and surprisingly vicious sci-fi war movie.
An alien race, called Mimics are attacking Earth and these floating squid-like creatures have captured much of Europe. Conventional military technology only provides limited success in battle but soldiers equipped with new heavily armed exoskeletons are starting to win fights despite huge losses.
A new campaign to seize back Europe is about to be launched by General Brigham (Gleeson) of Earth’s United Defence Force who intends to invade mainland Europe through the beaches of France in a re-run of D-Day. Heading the propaganda campaign for the oncoming battle is public affairs officer Major William Cage (Cruise), a former advertising executive who has never seen a day of combat. He fronts numerous PR events and news appearances. When he heads to London to meet Brigham to discuss how he can further coverage of the war he finds Brigham wants him to cover the combat himself from on the beaches!
Cage tries to get out of the battle but finds himself literally dropped into the fight out of a drop ship alongside other grunts and fighting in the very war he has been selling to the public. He is killed within minutes in a spectacularly ugly run in with a brute of an alien… and then wakes up at a military base on the eve of the battle about to be deployed again. He finds that he lives the battle over and over in a time loop which resets itself every time he dies.
As he keeps on fighting he does his best to try and change the future, altering decisions and choosing new paths he becomes more skilled and gets closer to meeting a Special Forces soldier named Rita Vrataski (Blunt) who soon joins him in combating the aliens. With each fight the two discover the circumstance of his death means he may be hold the key to defeating the aliens since his death can reset the events of the day and he can learn the weakness of the aliens through battle.
The film is based on Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s novel All You Need is Kill, a fitting title for a book which inventively uses death to create its narrative structure while hurting its lead actors in different ways to further the plot. It is a pathological obsession carried neatly over into the film and this creates an odd and almost addictive quality to the viewing experience as we watch our lead actor die over and over and over again and, rather morbidly, we want to continue watching the horror show just to see how much further he gets in his efforts to survive. In one iteration of the battle we see him head in one direction only to get engulfed in the flames of a dropship and in the next iteration we see what happens when he heads in another direction and pauses… before he gets blasted by aliens.
That the lead character is played by Tom Cruise is a testament to how game he is in playing with his image. He portrays William Cage with relish and we witness his range as he plays against the Hollywood hero type at the start and alters his performance over the course of the film.
When we first see Cruise he goes full bore utilising his star presence to ground the character. He is charming news anchors and beaming with confidence, selling the war to the audience as the smug and handsome media man. This the side of him we see in chat shows. Then we revel in his surprise and horror at being told he will cover the war from the frontlines and face the aliens.
You will see a convincing performance in cowardice and wheedling that totally flips the script on how we expect our leading men to act as he tries to duck out of his assignment and gets humiliated by a mean sergeant (played with gusto by Bill Paxton) and a platoon of roughneck squaddies before being sent on a spectacular looking (though tightly contained on a beach with a limited cast) suicide mission which is constantly revisited and expanded on as the film progresses and he alters his actions in each visit to this central battle.
The action is a cross between Groundhog Day and Saving Private Ryan with a dose of Aliens thrown in thanks to an exoskeleton that looks a little like Ripley’s Powerloader. Cage’s lack of combat skills sends him spiralling into an endless cycle of death and rebirth in numerous sequences which grow grander, gorier and more elaborate with every iteration of the battle he goes through. Death even visits him when he is not in battle as he tries to escape the training camp. The ability to come back to life never truly lifts the spectre of death from the film because the aliens are unnerving, the power relatively unknown and unexplained and the chaotic and fiery battles are pulse pounding while Cruise is great at conveying the fear his character feels.
Of course, with the power to come back from the dead our hero eventually learns to harness it and find a way to defeat the aliens (and complete a satisfying character arc) but getting there is tricky and grinding process (sometimes literally as Cage gets crushed by a lorry at one point) that takes hundreds of deaths, each one helping him figure out how to fight better. The mental and physical toll it exacts is shown in his toughening up and tiredness but the plot does get pushed forward in every iteration of the war against the aliens and actually explores what might happen if he drops out of it altogether. Cage’s comradeship with his platoon and his relationship with the ice cold Rita, wonderfully played by Emily Blunt, also get explored as characters are fleshed out.
The film is a lot of fun and the constant death cycle makes it a compelling watch as much as the action spectacle. You really do get the sense that the idea is being fully explored as well as getting the impressive action scenes. The unique set-up makes the film compelling and rather unique with its misanthropic and gleefully nasty air to it in the way that it deals with its main star.
I have reviewed one other Doug Liman film here, and that’s Fair Game.
The Japanese film release retains All You Need is Kill because of the popularity of the book, I suspect.