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'Edge of Tomorrow': Tom Cruise Time Travels, But Do We Want Him Back?

Photo of Caryn James By Caryn James | James on Screens June 2, 2014 at 8:59AM

'Edge of Tomorrow', or 'Groundhog Day Meets Alien,' is relatively good -- that is, relative to Tom Cruise's recent, unwatchable movies like 'Oblivion.' This one has terrific action scenes orchestrated in rich 3D by director Doug Liman and cinematographer Dion Beebe.
Edge of Tomorrow

Edge of Tomorrow, or Groundhog Day Meets Alien, is relatively good -- that is, relative to Tom Cruise's recent, unwatchable movies like Oblivion. This one has terrific action scenes orchestrated in rich 3D by director Doug Liman and cinematographer Dion Beebe. And the premise is so silly it's fun: alien invaders have arrived and created a totally war-ravaged Earth. The global military, the United Defense Force, may have a way to stop them, but there will be blood (or alien goop or whatever).

Cruise plays Major William Cage, assigned to do pr, but sent kicking and screaming into battle so he can spin the inevitable death toll our way. He gets killed, then returns to begin the previous day again. There is an explanation for this death-defying time travel, similar to Spiderman having been bitten. Only a fellow warrior, played by Emily Blunt, can understand because it also happened to her. Let's leave it at that, because the more the film explains its loopy plot, the more it dips away from anything interesting. You end up longing for more action if only because the talking scenes are so tiresome.  

Cruise has demonstrated that he has a sense of humor (Tropic Thunder), and there's a glimmer of that at the start, when Cage is still weasly and cowardly, assuming he can talk his way out of being sent into battle. But this is ultimately an earnest, Cruise-as-good-guy movie, so the wit doesn't last long. Soon we're in full generic war-hero mode, and Cruise seems to settle back and glide through the part, showing very little dynamism. Guess it's boring to relive the worst day of your life so often. 

Blunt glows charismatically, as she always does, playing Sgt. Rita Vrataski (of course Cruise outranks her), a celebrated "super-soldier" who killed a record number of enemies in a single battle thanks to new technology: that is, soldiers step into full-body jackets that make then look like Transformers. Vrataski doesn't have much to do except keep shooting Cage  so he can start the day over and over until they get it right and kill the head alien. Brendon Gleeson has a much juicier, small role as the general who ruins Cage's day.  

The war scenes are so energetic and captivating that the flattened characters may not matter to action fans. Cage, along with soldiers who actually know how to fight, parachutes (again and again) into a chaotic battle scene on a beach in France, a sly nod to Saving Private Ryan, if the hero had been a bumbler. The CGI'd aliens at first resemble gigantic dust bunnies, then become oversized metallic octopuses with fish faces. There's always something visually fascinating to watch. 

But even if you judge it generously, Edge of Tomorrow is only the season's second-best time-travel action movie. It shares a basic premise with X-Men: Days of Future Past. (You can read my review  here.) In both, someone from the future  -- Cruise here and Hugh Jackman as Wolverine in X-Men -- travels back in time to warn of impending, apocalyptic doom. It says something about our worries today that war and destruction are on our minds. What does it mean that time travel is the fantasy solution writers are coming up with? You could stretch a point and see the time travelers carrying topical social messages: we can glimpse the future but won't listen to hard truths about how to avert disaster, whether about war or the climate or anything else. But that would be a big stretch, because neither film aspires to or carries that kind of weight.

Instead, X-Men gives us spectacular action, more complicated characters and bravura acting. Edge of Tomorrow also gives us spectacular action, but relies on a jolt from Cruise's movie-star glow. And that glow has faded, partly from his many bad choices on screen and partly because he is so often regarded as a joke off-screen. Cruise is the least of the reasons to see a diverting-enough action movie that could have functioned just as well with almost anyone, from Matt Damon to some unknown, in the lead. Come to think of it, Emily Blunt would have been an intriguing choice.   



This article is related to: Tom Cruise, Edge Of Tomorrow, Reviews, Emily Blunt, Doug Liman, X-Men: Days of Future Past

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