Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) is having the worst day of his life. Literally.
After running afoul of a military general, he’s demoted to private and forced to join a D-Day-like ground-troop invasion of the beaches of western France in humanity’s last stand against an invasive alien species overrunning the planet.
In a nice twist from most Cruise films, Cage isn’t mankind’s savior. Not at first.
He’s a PR flak for the military with an advertising background who has no idea how to operate the advanced weapon and armor technology for the trained fighters.
“I’m not a soldier, really,” he pleads to no avail.
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Cage’s fellow infantry share his self-evaluation, with one joking to him moments before their drop into the war zone: “There’s something wrong with your chute. There’s a dead guy in there.”
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While Cage doesn’t last long in battle, he manages to outlive most of the other soldiers and kill several of the vicious insect-like aliens known as “mimics.” He also saves the life of the military’s celebrated super soldier, “Valkyrie” Rita (Emily Blunt), only to watch her die moments later and then meet his own demise. The battle then is a massive failure and humanity is essentially doomed.
But it’s far from game over.
Cage wakes up to the same reality only 24 hours before the battle — at an English military base shortly before troop deployment — and discovers that he’s trapped in a time loop of the recent past. Much like a video game, each time he dies and starts again he’s armed with the knowledge of his fate and the ability to change it for himself and others.
The plot sounds familiar, right? A mashup of Groundhog Day and Starship Troopers. But this simplistic summary isn’t wholly accurate and sells this ambitious and terrific sci-fi action film short.
Based on the Japanese light novel All You Need is Kill, Edge of Tomorrow is perfect summer escapism and the best Cruise film since 2002’s Minority Report.
If there is a comparison to make, it’s between Edge of Tomorrow and Minority Report: Both are well-executed, twisty thrillers built on a bedrock of strong source material and blessed with the proper off-camera talent to see it through the film adaptation.
Cruise is Cruise; funny, heroic, and gung-ho. But the actor brings something new to his action-film repertoire: wussiness. Cage is the reluctant soldier who initially does everything he can to get out of the fight. But as he dies over and over again and explores the many paths to staying alive and breaking through the time loop, Cage evolves into the familiar Cruise action hero. Cage is also dependent on someone else for his success. Without Rita’s help, he knows there’s no exit from this infinite time cycle.
Known for comedies and dramas, Blunt as action heroine is a departure for the actress, but she holds her own with Cruise. Like Cage, there’s more to Rita than battlefield expertise and heroism.
Directed by Doug Liman.
Written by Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, and John-Henry Butterworth, based on a novel by Hiroshi Sakurazaka.
A Warner Bros. release, playing at Franklin Park, Fallen Timbers, and Levis Commons.
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language, and brief suggestive material.
Running time: 113 minutes.
Critic’s rating: ★★★★
Cast: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Brendan Gleeson, Bill Paxton.
He and Rita also share an important trait: She experienced a similar time loop continuum on a battlefield, one in which she eventually fought her way out of, killing scores of mimics and becoming a legend. Rita offers to help Cage as part of their ultimate cause to win the battle and defeat the mimics. But with each failure and time loop restart, her memory is also reset, forcing Cage to convince her to help him over and over again.
In what could have been tedious repetition, director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Mr. and Mrs. Smith) makes things surprisingly funny, finding laughs, for instance, in a rapid succession of Cage deaths.
The humor not only breaks up the monotony of the story repetition, but serves as quick breather from the intense bloody battle sequences of the futile soldier invasion that’s not unlike Saving Private Ryan’s Normandy beach storm.
Eventually, Cage and Rita move past the battle sequence. But the story is far from over, as they discover their biggest battle awaits, as they must find and kill the boss alien that’s responsible for the invasion and may be the key to stopping Cage’s time loop.
Even that’s not so simple, though, as screenwriters Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, and John-Henry Butterworth drop in a few surprises along the way.
As much as Edge of Tomorrow is Cruise’s film, its success belongs to Liman and the screenwriters as well as the original story. Edge of Tomorrow is proof that even celebrities such as Cruise need help making good movies, and what those stars can do with those films when they have the opportunity.