By Jim Delmont
The sci-fi action film, “Edge of Tomorrow,” starring Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt, didn’t lead at the box office this weekend (second to the romantic “The Fault in Our Stars”) , but it did win on Rotten Tomatoes – a remarkable 92% approval from audiences and 90% from critics. Borrowing story elements from “Groundhog Day,” “Alien,” and H.G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds,” Cruise’s second sci-fi epic in a year is more action-filled than the other one, “Oblivion,” but not as thought-provoking or humanitarian. “Oblivion” had a complex storyline as Cruise paired off with the fetching Ukrainian actress, Olga Kurylenko (with another paramour, English actress Andrea Riseborough in a pocket, so to speak) and a sentimental dimension which had to be unwound from an enigmatic plot. “Edge” is combat-filled, relentless, but with a touch of romance, too – and both films offer an opportunity to save humanity.
I thought the space station where Cruise lived in domestic tranquility with the Anglo-cool Riseborough, a stunner – it even had a swimming pool. This time he’s stuck on a huge English military base prior to a D-Day style invasion of continental Europe, where wild beasties from outer space have devastated the familiar cityscapes. The twist is that Cruise is here a reluctant warrior, Major Cage, a public relations officer who is dragooned into joining a roughneck combat unit (shades of innumerable movie special brigades with shady backgrounds, but snarling for a fight). Bullied into combat in the invasion, and scared to death, he is killed – only to awaken back at the base where he started. This is the beginning of an almost endless series of deaths and rebirths, “Groundhog Day” fashion, in which he learns a little more in each incarnation. This is the fun part because the lovely Emily Blunt, oddly cast as an action babe and looking a bit too thin and buffed, goes on the journey with him, both learning and teaching one another in each episode. He acquires a special power (don’t ask how) she once had that enables the two humans to read the minds of the aliens, turning the tables on the creatures who normally are a step ahead of humans.
The “Groundhog Day” repetitions provide some rough humor and lots of suspense as Cage and Rita (Blunt) set out to win the day. The movie is also a quest film, like a legendary epic, with a relatively weak human hero (two in this case) trying to best the Gorgon monsters by finding their queen’s lair. Here is where H.G. Wells steps in since the demise of the alien invaders, if successfully wrought, will be sudden and universal.
The visuals in “Edge of Tomorrow” are impressive – the invasion preparations on a vast scale look the real thing and the combat, whether with humans, machines or both, are slick as any video game action.
Hollywood’s usual conundrum does appear: if aliens are so intelligent they can get here from there, why are they mad, vicious octopus-like creatures, howling and spitting with hatred? Wouldn’t they be a bit more sophisticated and clever – not so much like starving wolves? Eventually a scriptwriter will come up with aliens who, though having military advantages, are also capable of verbal game-playing and sly strategies. But not in “Edge of Tomorrow,” a stirring action flick in which Cruise and Blunt hint at more intimate possibilities, but have to fight through layers of adventure first.
Fun, fast-moving, and presenting a more complex Cruise, “Edge of Tomorrow” is a winner. Cruise should make his sci-fi excursions a yearly event. At 52, he looks an eternal 35.