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Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) is a coward. Not a sniveling, whining sort of a coward, but a charismatic officer in the U.S. Army who does public relations work to stay out of combat and will do almost anything to keep it that way. The last thing he wants to do is strap on a mechanized battle suit and fight the invading alien horde. But circumstances are not in his favor, and he finds himself being dragged toward the battlefield by Master Sergeant Farell (Bill Paxton) who tells him that combat will be his baptism by fire—his chance to rectify his past wrongdoings, no matter what sort of parasitic lowlife he might have been in the past.
And baptized by fire he is. Over and over and over again. As he fights, his cowardice transforms into courage, and his selfishness gives way to selflessness, especially after he begins to work with Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), the war’s most decorated warrior. Together, they attempt to find and destroy the leader of the Mimics, the metallic alien warriors that have overrun most of Europe and seem uncannily skilled at adapting to human weapons and strategies.
Edge of Tomorrow is unmistakably a summer action flick. Alien invasions? Check. Awesome mechanized battle suits? Check. Extended combat sequences? Check. But it stands apart from standard summer fare because of its interesting and imaginative plot line (it is based on the novel All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka) and original character development. Unlike many action movies, Edge of Tomorrow is complex enough to demand attention to the plot, not merely the elaborate action scenes. And while Edge of Tomorrow does not fully explore its metaphor of baptism by fire, it does take seriously the idea that virtue is born of adversity.
Virtue, in this case, mostly involves killing things and blowing stuff up, with a healthy sprinkling of saving individual’s lives and all of humanity thrown in for good measure. But cowardice is a real vice, born of selfishness, while courage is a genuine virtue, born of self-sacrifice—even if it happens to be a particularly entertaining virtue, especially when coupled with a lavish special effects budget. Computer-generated imagery should not devalue this film’s morality tale, even if it is sometimes overshadowed by explosions, car chases, and nifty tiltrotor dropships.
Of course, no story is good if it is told badly. Edge of Tomorrow is directed by Doug Liman, who finds a good balance between gritty action sequences, plot propulsion, and occasional moments of laugh-out-loud comedy. (For those who hated the Bourne series and everything shaky-cam stands for, it does not co-star in this movie.) Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt execute their roles well, and a solid supporting cast backs them up.
That is not to say the movie is perfect or that it will be equally enjoyed by everyone. Some may not like inhabiting a world where governments decide to build the Hollywood alien-fighting weapon of choice—mechanized battle suits—to fight the Mimic invasion, instead of using nuclear weapons. Others may object to the film’s catalog of death, destruction, and choice use of the English language, although the film as a whole is clean for a PG-13 film, eschewing constant swearing in favor of more productive dialogue.
As a whole, however, Edge of Tomorrow is a sci-fi movie for the thinking man, a well-executed and enjoyable film. Perhaps it is not an instant classic or a timeless masterpiece, but it represents the best of the contemporary action flick: good action sequences, an interesting plot, and solid characters. If you prefer your explosions with a side of story, this one’s for you.