In a next-door near-future, techno-tentacled invaders called 'mimics' have invaded Europe as an unstoppable swarm of super-speed terrors. Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) is an officer and a PR man, given an order to land and record footage with the assault forces in the big push that's designed to stop the enemy. When he refuses, he's slapped in chains and busted to Private.
Given minimal training and a exo-skeleton loaded with weapons and technology, he goes into battle on the shore of Normandy the next day and dies fast and ugly, his blood mingling with whatever it is that floods out of one of the alien officers... And then wakes up, alive, whole and entire, on the morning of the day before his fateful, futile drop into France where he dies...
A mix of forward-looking sci-fi, classic themes, deft plotting and superb writing and direction, "Edge of Tomorrow" may be the pure-pleasure blockbuster to beat this Summer. It's easy to dismiss the film as a pastiche of its influences -- "Starship Loopers Save Private Ryan on the Longest Groundhog Day" -- but accurate as that joke it, it nonetheless does the film no justice.
Director Doug Liman and his team of screenwriters, Chris McQuarrie and the pair of John-Henry and Jez Butterworth, aren't just re-cycling old plots and tropes but, rather, up-cycling them, making them shiny and new and fun in a way that not only works as entertainment but also works, superbly, with star Tom Cruise's abilities and image to groovy, goofy effect. (Based on the novel by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, "Edge of Tomorrow" displays McQuarrie's fingerprints as a writer -- smart, cynical, snappy -- most clearly.)
From his first death -- big eyes staring out of a blown-up face -- Cruise and the movie both work, and work hard, to turn his journey through cosmic oddness and ammo-spitting action into a sci-fi variation on Wile E. Coyote: Effort, failure, agony, re-start. Tom Cruise is, like all movie stars, a little under-served by that mere appellation -- he's actually an interesting actor, God forbid, and one whose secret weapon is his public face.
Cruise always looks like he's on top of things, but he's at his best when he's trying to look like he's on top of things when he is not. Cruise puts the 'con' in confidence in many of his roles -- and Maj. Cage, who goes from the last guy you'd want fighting in the war to being the only man who can win it, is a perfect fit for him. Watching the Tom Cruise get punched off Tom Cruise's face in this film -- often, and often fatally -- is one of its major pleasures. We love watching Cruise play the man who'll never say 'die.' What happens when 'die' is all he can do?
Eventually, Cage manages to manipulate his moebius-strip timeline until he meets propaganda poster girl and decorated soldier Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), who tore through the invaders at Verdun -- specifically because she, like he, was looping through time in a similar way or that battle -- and now can't. The aliens control time -- and use that control to ensure crushing, absolute victory -- and Cage, returning to life again and again with more information earned each time he dies, will be the key.
It's one thing to find a summer blockbuster that, at first glance, is as well-shot and well-made as this one with smart creative decisions directing the craft. (Director of Photography Dion Beebe deserves much well-earned credit here.) But "Edge of Tomorrow" zips by so fast, it's like seeing a Ferrari whip by before you get a chance to look under the hood to see exactly what makes it so speedy.
The montages here aren't shortcuts in the storytelling -- they are the storytelling, showing us Cage's journey through a short life and resurrection as he follows the tracks, or leaps them, every time. The aliens, cracked-out on time itself, move almost too quickly to be seen -- which makes them easier SFX creations, and means we feel more of an impact when we can see them. The power-suits Cage and Vrtaski wear are badass -- but never obscure their faces, and it's made clear that, as ever, it's who's carrying the gear that makes it count.
The supporting cast is all excellent -- Blunt is a warrior-woman who knows more than she lets on; Bill Paxton plays the older, grizzled order-spitting Master Sgt. Farell; a host of great actors with great faces, like Noah Taylor and Kick Gurry, make up the rest of the phony-tough and crazy-brave in Cage's doomed battalion. Blunt gets to be both tough and tender, but not too much of the latter -- a constantly-resetting timeline means no time for love, Dr. Jones -- and it's the kind of performance on her part that has surface-level gloss but that will also yield deeper pleasures on repeated viewings.
Director Liman jumped to action-studio films with 2002's "The Bourne Identity" -- another action film, like this one, about self-preservation as self-discovery -- and he's definitely, deftly improved his game in the intervening years. I'd much rather watch Liman's shooting and staging (and the wit he brings to them) than anything similar-ish from ham-handed masters of the mediocre like Michael Bay or Matthew Vaughn. And the best thing about "Edge of Tomorrow" is that it's fun -- no watching huge monsters destroy cities as we look on helpless; no mopey mutants whining about persecution; just one person, aided by and aiding others, facing fearful odds with the world at stake.
It'd be easy to dismiss "Edge of Tomorrow" as just another blunt-force summer movie, but it's sharp as a scalpel in the deft hands of its makers, with the kind of smarts, wit, filmmaking and force too many other summer films can only dream of.