This weekend saw the release of mega-star Tom Cruise’s latest science fiction actioner, Edge of Tomorrow. From the box office numbers, not nearly as many of you went to see is as should have since it only managed third place (though it did top $100 million worldwide, so there’s hope). We here are in agreement that it is one of the best movies of the summer, a fantastic mix of action, dark humor, invading aliens, and Tom Cruise dying in a many, many ways. Before you read on, you should step away from your computer and go watch this movie. Maybe buy an extra ticket while you’re at it, just to tell Hollywood that they need to keep making movies like this. Doug Liman’s film is one that wears its influences on its sleeve. As you watch, you notice a variety of scenes and elements that definitely call to mind other notable genre movies. In that spirit, we’ve put together a list of movies to watch, or most likely re-watch, after you see Edge of Tomorrow repeatedly.
I can’t tell you how many times I thought of Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers while watching Edge of Tomorrow. When Cruise’s Bill Cage, loaded with bulky weapons, takes on the invading alien force called Mimics on a beach, the action calls to mind the desert planet combat between the Troopers and the Bugs. And though the comedy is very different—there’s no tongue in cheek political satire in the newer film—there is enough of a parallel in the timing and delivery of the jokes, of which there are an unexpected number, to call the earlier movie to mind.
Overall, the two films share a significant aesthetic bond. More than anything, there is a look and feel that reminds you of Verhoeven’s adaptation of Robert Heinlein’s classic novel. The setting, the color scheme, even down to the way the soldiers move when weighed down with bulky equipment. The entire time I sat in the theater, I couldn’t get past the idea that these two movies would make for one hell of a double feature.
Cruise has made his share of notable science fiction movies, even if his last outing, Oblivion, left something to be desired. Edge of Tomorrow stands up with the best of his work in our favored genre, up along side of Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report. Based on a Philip K. Dick short story, Cruise plays a futuristic police officer who finds himself accused of a murder that he hasn’t committed yet, and must find a way to extricate himself from the situation. How do you stop yourself from doing something you haven’t done yet, but are destined to do?
Characters dealing with time fluctuations in a unique way form the primary uniting element between these two films. Well, that and Tom Cruise running, because he spends a fair amount of time running in nearly every movie he’s ever made. More than most massive celebrities, Cruise has an affinity for science fiction. Will Smith is about the only other star on that level that regularly turns out big time science fiction, though his highs in this realm have never equaled Cruise’s.
The Matrix is one of the most influential science fiction movies of this generation, the impact of the Wachowski’s breakthrough film—before that their only directorial effort was the erotic heist film Bound—can be seen in countless genre offerings. Where this influence is most visible in Edge of Tomorrow is in the creature design of the aliens.
The Mimics have a jittery motion as they bounce around the battlefield, but physically they definitely resemble the sentinels from all three of the Matrix movies. Looking like severed heads with a crazy trail of dreadlocks, the way the Mimics move, burrow through the ground, and even tear through the outer skin of the United Defense Force vehicles, owes a huge debt to the Wachowski siblings. Even the way they pause, with their tentacles flaring up behind them, like a cat puffing itself up to look big, is reminiscent of those mechanical entities that always seemed a little too sinister to simply be unfeeling machines.
In Edge of Tomorrow, Emily Blunt plays a straight up badass named Rita Vrataski. Her character’s weapon of choice for fighting aliens is a sharpened piece of a helicopter blade, which should provide a glimpse into her psyche and her warrior mentality. She also shoots Cruise in the head repeatedly over the course of their training. Watching this movie, she comes across as natural, so you wouldn’t necessarily guess that this is her first time tackling this kind of hardcore action in a movie. Though she doesn’t have many films of this ilk on her resume, this isn’t Blunt’s first sci-fi rodeo. She’s appeared in films like The Adjustment Bureau, but her turn in Rian Johnson’s time travel noir Looper is the one you should check out first.
Though not action heavy, especially where she is concerned, Looper has Blunt playing a tough, shotgun wielding mother, someone not to be trifled with, especially when it comes to protecting her child. When Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a specialized breed of hitman who assassinates targets from the future, is sent back (played by Bruce Willis), the two versions engage in a frantic search for the child who will eventually become a crime lord and take away the only thing that ever matters in either of their lives.
Groundhog Day may not, technically speaking, be a true science fiction movie, but given that Bill Murray’s character Phil gets stuck in an endless loop of time, much like Cruise’s Bill Cage in Edge of Tomorrow, we’re willing to let that detail slide. Outside of Ghostbusters, and maybe Stripes, this 1993 comedy is the best of all the team ups between Murray and Harold Ramis. Funny and heartfelt, there’s a reason why we still talk about it on the regular more than two decades after it hit theaters.
There’s also a very good reason why nearly every review of Edge of Tomorrow compares the story to Groundhog Day (I’m actually proud of myself that I was able to write my entire review and not make that connection). When Cage dies battling an alien invasion, he wakes up the morning before, only to relive a chaotic D-Day-esque invasion and die again, and again, and again. There is seriously a montage of Tom Cruise dying in new and inventive ways. He never takes a toaster into the bath with him like Phil, but does get run over, crushed, ripped apart, and shot, so there’s that.
A.I. Artificial Intelligence
Brendan Gleeson shows up as a gruff general who, when Cage—a public relations expert not a soldier—tries to talk his way out of filming the upcoming invasion in an attempt to sell the tactic to the public, sends him to the front. Other than that, he is woefully underused. In fact, Gleeson’s lack of a role is easily my biggest complaint against Edge of Tomorrow. He’s one of the best character actors in the game, but he is given almost nothing to work with here. In another movie this role could have been anyone, a throwaway role, but on a production of this scale, they got someone awesome that they don’t even need to utilize.
The movie I want to tell you to watch is John Michael McDonagh’s The Guard, which is a 96-minute showcase for Gleeson’s considerable talent. But that has nothing to do with science fiction, not even at all, so you should check out some of his incredible character work in genre movies like Steven Spielberg’s A.I.. He plays Lord Johnson-Johnson, a vehemently anti-android preacher man who rails against the artificial life forms any chance he gets. It isn’t a particularly large role, but it is memorable, and a nice illustration of what he can do. Cough, you should still watch The Guard, cough.
I feel bad suggesting Jumper to anyone, because it sucks and you shouldn’t watch it, but it’s also the only sci-fi movie that Doug Liman has directed other than Edge of Tomorrow. He’s most known for helming The Bourne Identity, which aside from this is probably his strongest movie. While the most recent installment of the Bourne franchise has some science fiction elements—Jeremy Renner plays a genetically enhanced, intentionally mutated super soldier in The Bourne Legacy—but Liman had nothing to do with that movie, so I’m shit out of luck with that one.
But I want to include another Liman film on this list because his touch is a big part of what makes Edge of Tomorrow so good. He balances action and humor in a way that many directors would flub, and as heavy, bleak, and grim as the mood can get, he never lets it weigh down the story, pace, or characters. This really is a strong piece of work on his part, though it’s one that doesn’t have all that many people talking. Some say the best directing jobs are the ones where you don’t notice their presence at all, and this is definitely one of those. So watch Jumper if you’ve already seen The Bourne Identity and want to be a Liman completist.