Moving Pictures
Mar 18, 2024, 06:27AM

Why Edge of Tomorrow is the Only Good Tom Cruise Movie

No other movie tries as hard to get rid of Cruise.

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Tom Cruise’s career is irritatingly inevitable and inevitably irritating. Ever since he stretched his cheek muscles into that smug, staid grin in 1980s hits like Risky Business and Top Gun he’s been an unavoidable screen presence, playing the same can-do guy with no particular acting ability who we all have to love because he’s superstar Tom Cruise with the uncanny valley wind-up smirk. And then playing him again. And again. And again. The smirk won’t die. No matter even that the smirker behind it is the leader of an abusive cult.

This is the genius of the 2014 sort-of classic Edge of Tomorrow. It’s a film in which Cruise smirks over and over. And then you get to watch that smirk get wiped off his face as he’s repeatedly, brutally, and satisfyingly murdered.

The story to set up the repeated Cruise-icide barely makes sense—but that’s part of the charm. The world has been invaded by a tentacular alien species which has conquered Europe and is moving on to Britain. Cruise plays Major William Cage, an American military publicity flak who through his own cowardice and incompetence ends up on the leading edge of the last-ditch no-hope final assault on alien-occupied Europe. Unsurprisingly, Cage gets killed. Surprisingly, he discovers that because a special tentacled alien bled on him, he now gets reset to the day before the invasion every time he dies.

It’s fun because, for Cruise haters, it recapitulates Cruise’s hateful career. He enters the story as a slick, sniveling glad-handing salesman, trying to grin his way out of having to join the fighting. And then he’s turned into a hero through sheer, numbing force of repetition. The God of the great studio that’s the world just decides to give Cruise take after take to become our savior protagonist. Nonsensical as the film is, uninspiring as Cruise may be, there’s no escape. He rises up, teeth first, into super-heroism and leading-man money.

If the film reiterates the terror that is Cruise, it also gives viewers a chance for cathartic revenge on his relentlessly annoying screen image. Because Cage keeps getting killed. He gets torn apart by tentacled aliens. He gets run over by a truck. He gets shot. He gets shot. He gets shot. He gets shot. He gets crushed by a falling plane. He gets hit by a truck. He gets torn apart by tentacled aliens. He gets shot.

And every time, every time, he pops up again, tightening those little muscles in his cheek, looking determined, sweaty, heroic. And then he gets killed again! He keeps thinking he’s the hero, like all those other movies, and instead, at last—at last!—he’s just another sad sack piece of canon fodder. Someone somewhere finally realized that this guy is a blight on cinema, and they’ve decided to eliminate him and make someone else the hero. Someone like, say, the talented Emily Blunt, who plays hardened sergeant Rita Vrataski, a woman who had the time-repeat power before Cage.

The Cruise defenestration is too good to last. Eventually the movie has to move forward. Cage turns into a standard action hero. Rita gets demoted to sidekick and (its implied) love interest. The last image is of Cruise standing there with the smug smile, assured that no matter how many times you kill him, he can never stay dead. Because, for some reason as unfathomable as the plot, audiences and Hollywood love him.

But that’s the way it goes. Not every movie can have a happy ending. But the joy of Edge of Tomorrow is that there are many endings, and in most of them Tom Cruise’s smirk vanishes from the screen forever to trouble us no more. It’s not real. But Hollywood lives on dreams.


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