“EDGE OF TOMORROW” — 3 1/2 stars — Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton, Jonas Armstrong, Tony Way, Kick Gurry; PG-13 (intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language, brief suggestive material and brief nudity); in general release
“Edge of Tomorrow” is about a man who relives the same day over and over again as he gets closer and closer to saving the human race from an alien invasion. Every time he advances into new territory, the audience feels a fresh level of tension as they anticipate what will happen next.
The film is based on a novel by Hiroshi Sakurazaka called “All You Need Is Kill,” which may be the coolest title ever designed to offend Beatles fans. But even if “Edge of Tomorrow” is based on a book, it feels like the greatest video game movie ever filmed.
The backstory is routine sci-fi fare: a meteor lands in Germany and unleashes an alien invasion that sweeps across mainland Europe. The aliens, best described as animated wigs with homicidal tendencies, are dubbed “Mimics” for their powers of adaptability. They also operate as a hive mind and don’t seem to be interested in petty matters like table negotiations or appeasement. As the film opens, an international coalition is about to retaliate and invade mainland Europe using robotic super-soldier technology.
Tom Cruise plays Cage, a military PR flack who gets busted down to private when he refuses to provide film coverage from the front lines. Labeled a deserter, he is quickly tossed in with the ground infantry where he finds himself storming the beaches at Normandy in a robotic battle suit he doesn’t know how to use.
Spoiler alert: He quickly gets killed.
But don’t worry; that’s just the setup. Cage immediately wakes up back at home base and is stunned to find that he’s travelled back to the previous day. Events repeat themselves a few times, and with a little help from a military hero named Rita (Emily Blunt) and a scientist named Dr. Carter (Noah Taylor), eventually he discovers that he’s tapped into the alien consciousness and gained the ability to reset time. In short, every time he gets killed, time resets to his demotion the day before the invasion.
From here, Cage’s mission is clear: Use his ability to find a way to defeat the alien invaders. If he happens to get killed along the way, just start the process over and try, try again. Of course, the process is helped when Case learns that, for a time, Rita shared the same ability.
It’s impossible to watch “Edge of Tomorrow” without connecting it to other films. “Groundhog Day” is the obvious parallel, but films like “Saving Private Ryan,” “Elysium” and “Independence Day” also feel as if they had a part in the inspiration process. However, unlike “Oblivion,” Cruise’s sci-fi vehicle from last year, that also felt derivative, “Edge of Tomorrow” eventually shakes itself loose from its forebears and finishes on its own two robotically assisted feet.
As you’d expect, a plot like this lends itself to a lot of violent content, and, even though it’s pretty bloodless, “Edge of Tomorrow” is generous in that department.
What you don’t expect is for the movie to be so funny. At times, Cage’s recurring death becomes a running gag, and audiences might be surprised at how often they find themselves laughing at the film's refined sense of humor.
Audiences also might expect this kind of plot to feel redundant, but director Doug Liman (“The Bourne Identity”) and his screenwriting team wisely know how to ramp up the tension when it is needed.
The story of “Edge of Tomorrow” is bolstered by its cast. Cruise more or less plays Cruise, though with a fairly dramatic narrative arc compared to his usual leading men. Blunt is perfect as the tough-but-appealing Rita, and Bill Paxton seems to be channeling Robert Duvall’s character in “Apocalypse Now” as Master Sergeant Farell, the philosophical meathead who greets Cage at the beginning of every re-set. And even if he feels a little underused, it’s always nice to see Brendan Gleeson on board as General Brigham, the man who demotes Cage at the beginning of it all.
It’s also nice to see a film where outstanding visual effects are in place to support the story and not the other way around. The film's narrative is so engaging that you forget the quality of the effects you see on the screen. Unfortunately, all the effects in the world won’t undo the brief shot of a male backside that, even if played for laughs, thankfully doesn’t become one of the film’s running gags.
It will be interesting to see how “Edge of Tomorrow” does next to this summer’s other action tent poles. It’s an excellent ride, but even with Cruise in the lead, franchises rule the field these days. It would be a shame if “Edge of Tomorrow” gets swept under the rug just because it lacks a Marvel or Transformers logo.
“Edge of Tomorrow” is rated PG-13 for consistent brutal action violence, profanity (including one use of the f-word) and brief nudity.
Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photojournalist who appears weekly on "The KJZZ Movie Show" and also teaches English composition for Salt Lake Community College. More of his work is at woundedmosquito.com.