Scene: The Pitch.
Writer/Producer/Director: Imagine Saving Private Ryan meets Aliens meets Groundhog Day.
Studio Exec: OK. But only if an aging Tom Cruise and that snooty secretary from The Devil Wears Prada play the leads.
I’m not sure which is more shocking about the sci-fi action movie Edge of Tomorrow: that the above premise works and works so well; that it’s a true PG-13 despite very intense battlefield action (you can take your pre-teens to this movie); or that in the three weeks since its release, this summer popcorn movie has earned a measly $84 million at the box office. The latest Transformer installment earned $100 million in one week and it only has a 17% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, meaning that fewer than 2 out of 10 reviewers gave it a thumb’s up. Meanwhile, Edge of Tomorrow has a 90% rating.
I’m also not sure what the statue of limitations is on jumping up and down on Oprah’s couch and acting like a loon, but with this performance, Tom Cruise has reclaimed the right to call himself a movie star. He’s no Daniel Day Lewis in terms of recreating himself for each role, but despite his off-screen baggage, Tom Cruise has always managed to make me forget he’s Tom Cruise. All thoughts of his bizarre off-screen behavior and associations fade into the background as I get caught up in his on-screen saga. Cruise was the Spencer Tracy everyman before George Clooney usurped that title with his relatable, easy-going charm. Cruise will probably never make it back to his days of Jerry Maguire popularity, but when he’s starring in a smart, highly entertaining film, he deserves to be on the big screen and seen by a wide audience.
Cruise’s character, Major William Cage, starts out much like Bill Murray’s Phil Connors in Groundhog Day, a shallow, smarmy media tool who’s looking out for his own interests. When his cowardly actions land him in the middle of a beach invasion, inept and unprepared for a brutal close encounter with alien forces, Cage begins the process of reliving the same events over and over again, with the aim of eventually getting it right and hopefully saving the world.
Part of the joy of watching these characters trapped in a time loop, as in Groundhog Day or 12 Monkeys, is experiencing the evolution of the character. The driving motivator as these characters go from n’er-do-well to sacrificing hero is the transformative power of love, and in the case of Edge of Tomorrow, the object of Cruise’s admiration is super soldier Rita Vrataski. Played by Emily Blunt, Vrataski is referred to as both an angel and a bitch. Can you imagine if female action characters had existed in the days of Olivia DeHavilland and Bette Davis? Well, now you don’t have to.
In addition to the star performances, tight screenplay and capable direction, probably my favorite thing about watching Edge of Tomorrow was that I actually could watch every frame. Like last year’s World War Z, the movie was shot and edited with an eye toward getting families into the seats. Even though the aliens are spidery, lethal creatures — as ugly as Predator and as fast-moving as the killer mobs in 28 Days Later, the gore is non-existent. While I know the decision to exercise such restraint may have little to do with the filmmaker’s aesthetic, it satisfies my unending quest for action, sci-fi fare I can watch with my eyes riveted on the screen, rather than buried in the sleeves of my hoodie.
I remain curious about the paltry box-office results. With such positive reviews, a wide release and a family-friendly PG-13 rating, why aren’t people going to see this movie in droves? Could it be that in addition to the movies already mentioned, Edge of Tomorrow conjures comparisons to District 9 and Elysium, artsy-fartsy sci-fi fare that require too many brain cells for summer-time consumption? Or was it was released too early, with schools still in session and families not yet seeking the air-conditioned sanctuary of the cinema? Or is the Tom Cruise sofa stigma still attaching itself to theatrical releases with the same appeal as owning an Alex Rodriguez baseball card?
Whatever the reason, there is still time to jump off that couch and see this movie at the theatre before it disappears in favor of a bunch of movies with Roman numerals at the end of their titles. Did I mention Bill Paxton is in it? What are you waiting for?