Overview: In the midst of a war against invading aliens, a soldier (Tom Cruise) finds himself stuck in a time loop that resets every time he dies. Warner Bros. Pictures; 2014; Rated PG-13; 113 Minutes
Centering The Bar: Edge of Tomorrow is the ideal summer blockbuster. That doesn’t mean that it’s perfect. It doesn’t even necessarily mean that it’s good (although it is.) It just means that Edge of Tomorrow is exactly what a summer blockbuster should be. Edge of Tomorrow doesn’t offer any intellectual challenge, but you don’t need to “check your brain at the door” to enjoy it. The story is involving, but not incomprehensible. It’s visually slick and bombastic while retaining an individual identity. This is the standard by which summer blockbusters should be judged. It’s exactly as bad, dumb, and lazy as this kind of movie should be allowed to be; that is to say, not very.
Crusin’: Admittedly, most of this movie’s success comes courtesy of Tom Cruise. Between this film and last year’s Oblivion, Cruise seems to have settled comfortably into a new stage in his career. These are two modest sci-fi films that rely on story more than spectacle. Watching Edge of Tomorrow, you get the impression that director Doug Liman isn’t interested in the action scenes beyond their function in the story. Cruise’s character, William Cage, is very much the focus of every battle. With a less charismatic or talented actor, this could have made for an infuriating experience. But Cruise is so electric on-screen that almost every scene sings. He’s such an easy presence to latch onto. It rarely matters what he’s doing; the important thing is that he’s the one doing it. I’d also be remiss not to mention Emily Blunt, whose character Rita Vrataski is handled with almost unprecedented intelligence and grace. Rare is the action film in which the male protagonist is a hapless moron and the female protagonist has to train him in combat.
All You Need Is Adequacy: On a technical level, the film is decidedly average. That’s not meant as negative in the slightest. Too often, “average” is used as a way to criticize a film’s failure to live up to either its own ambitions or (more often) the expectations of the audience. That’s not always fair, though. Failing to be extraordinary isn’t the same thing as failing to be competent. The design of the alien creatures is really cool, so it doesn’t matter that it’s a riff on an idea that’s been done before. What really makes this film work is how confident it is. It never pauses to remind you of relevant story details, and it never over-explains its ideas. It barrels forward at a respectable clip, trusting you to be able to get on board with it. That’s what makes this film so refreshing despite its familiarity. It’s confident enough to trust the audience to go along with it, but never so arrogant that it deliberately leaves you behind. It’s not a classic film, but it is a friendly film.
Wrap-Up: Edge of Tomorrow is the standard by which all summer blockbusters should be judged. Smart, well-paced, and most of all fun.