Edge of Tomorrow Is Tom Cruise Dying to Reinvent Himself

If there’s one thing Tom Cruise knows how to do, it’s be a movie star. Over the years, he’s achieved a mythic stature as the last of a dying breed, from a time when leading actors mattered more than the characters they’d inhabit or the costumes they’d wear. However true that is or not, there’s no denying that some movies feel tailor-made for him, usually because they know how to key in on some part of him. The man knows how to use himself to draw in a crowd, and he’s confident folks will turn up to watch him in just about anything.

Case in point, Edge of Tomorrow (or Live Die Repeat, depending on what poster you’re looking at). Originally released June 6, 2014, the sci-fi flick did only okay at the box office, but has achieved cult status in the years since it came out. Loosely based on Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s 2004 light novel All You Need is Kill, the movie offered Cruise perhaps his greatest canvas at the time: what if you could watch him die over and over again while he fights aliens with exosuits and Emily Blunt swings a big-ass video game sword? That kind of setup would probably serve as an effective star vehicle for an up-and-coming actor who you’ve seen in supporting roles for a few years, and who gets a chance to come into their own here. But with Cruise in the top-billed role, it became a key part of understanding him as an action star: namely, that there’s nothing he won’t do if it draws in a good crowd.

Image: Warner Bros.

Edge sets itself apart from other Tom Cruise movies almost immediately with his character, William Cage. Unlike Ethan Hunt or Collateral’s Vincent, Cage is a bigger dirtbag who other Cruise roles would probably dislike almost immediately. He’s an unabashed prick who gets roped into the military because he tried to blackmail the wrong guy, so it’s maybe no surprise when the movie starts killing him with glee typically reserved for a horror movie character positioned to get what’s coming to them. Part of Edge’s appeal is watching Cage die over and over again: some ends are heroic, others are dark or just plain sad. But eventually you will laugh at some of them, mostly because the film is encouraging you to. That the movie and Cruise himself are in on the joke adds extra fuel to the fire.

Later Mission: Impossible sequels became a gateway for slapstick comedy and the chance to see Cruise nearly die for one big spectacular stunt, both of which inform Edge. The actor previously compared Cage’s deaths to that of Wile E. Coyote, but they’re also similar to how you die in a roguelike game like Dark Souls (whose sequel came out months before the movie) or Hades. Cage learns the ropes with the help of Blunt’s Rita Vrataski, and he comes to hold his own, but as is the case in games of those type, sometimes you just get got because you overcommitted or got put into a bad position. And who is Tom Cruise if not a human roguelike doing his damnedest to win over the audience? The Mission movies have marketed themselves around his big death-defying stunts, again and again, in the hopes of bringing people to the theater just to see how it plays out on the big screen. Edge isn’t as practical as those movies, but in asking how much that matters, and the answer appears to be “not much.”

Image for article titled Edge of Tomorrow Is Tom Cruise Dying to Reinvent Himself

Image: Warner Bros.

Edge of Tomorrow exists as a centerpoint of Tom Cruise’s modern career, particularly as it pertains to his genre work. The most obvious association is going to concern Mission: Impossible; the Burj Khalifa setpiece in Ghost Protocol helps inform this movie, which then reflects how writer Christopher McQuarrie tackles his quartet of Mission films. Ethan/Ilsa’s interplay exists in the shadow of Cage and Rita, in the same way Dead Reckoning’s slapstick moments (like Ethan literally crashing into frame) feel driven by the same energy as the goofy ends Cage endures. People like seeing Tom Cruise go from scumbag to savior? Enter The Mummy, where treasure hunter Nick Morton gets beaten around and harassed by the titular villain before winding up the vessel of an Egyptian death god. Even Top Gun: Maverick feels in conversation with this film, if only because in that Cruise plays the shining example of a military man whose sheer determination and presence would get Cage to straighten his act out and become a proper soldier, no repeated deaths required.

Is this one of the more important movies in Cruise’s career? Possibly, if only because he took the time to highlight it on social media in light of its anniversary. Edge of Tomorrow is a movie that wasn’t made specifically with Cruise in mind, but it knew how to use him in the right ways… some of which involved turning him into a walking crash test dummy.

Want more io9 news? Check out when to expect the latest Marvel, Star Wars, and Star Trek releases, what’s next for the DC Universe on film and TV, and everything you need to know about the future of Doctor Who.

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