Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) is kind of a jerk when we first meet him in Edge of Tomorrow, the new sci-fi action thriller from director Doug Liman (Swingers, The Bourne Identity). A public relations rep for the military during an unprecedented and devastating worldwide war against alien invaders known as “Mimics,” Cage has never seen a day of combat and isn’t exactly hungry to get out there and start fighting. But thanks to a cowardly exchange in which he tries to clumsily threaten the four-star general (Brendan Gleeson) in charge of Earth’s United Defense Force (UDF), Cage finds himself headed directly for the front line on a French beach — where he is thrust unceremoniously into battle and quickly slaughtered with the rest of the troops.
That is, until he suddenly wakes up and finds himself inexplicably reliving the entire day — not just once, but over and over again, starting from scratch every time he is killed on the battlefield and fruitlessly trying to convince his master sergeant (Bill Paxton) and fellow soldiers of what is happening. Every time out, however, Cage gets a little better at fighting and eventually crosses paths with top Special Forces warrior Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), who seems to have knowledge of Cage’s situation. He finds out from her that he is caught in a time loop connected to the Mimics, which may hold the only key to defeating the invaders and saving the human race.
Based on a Japanese “light novel” by Hiroshi Sakurazaka called All You Need is Kill, Edge of Tomorrow is, in its simplest form, a cross between Groundhog Day and Starship Troopers. But it works hard to find the best attributes of both those stories, melding them into a smart and often very funny sci-fi scenario. Cruise and Blunt are given genuine character arcs to play, a rarity in today’s summer action/genre blockbusters, and the movie finds time to ponder questions about fate, destiny and personal responsibility amidst a barrage of visceral and intense battle scenes.
Liman directs at full throttle, giving a frightening intensity to the action sequences and the numerous confrontations with the Mimics, who are hideous biomechanical whirling dervishes. But his secret weapon is the script by Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, and John-Henry Butterworth, which finds new, inventive and humorous ways to show Cage endlessly reliving the same day mostly without repetition that could become quickly tedious. And when the narrative moves forward and Cage begins expanding the parameters of his single day, the script finds ways to drop us further along in the story while economically catching us up at the same time.
All of this plays to superb effect in the movie’s first half, which features a number of genuine laugh-out-loud moments despite the grim horror of the situation that Cage and the rest of the human race is in. Even when the time loop is pushed almost to the breaking point in the movie’s third act — which starts to feel a bit long thanks to the now-standard overstuffed climax we are getting served up in all big-budget films of this sort — it never loses cohesion or breaks its own rules. The ending gave me pause as well — until I realized that if you think about it, it works as well.
Imagine that: a Hollywood summer sci-fi blockbuster that actually makes you think a little. Combine that with the fact that Edge of Tomorrow is — while based on an existing literary property — not a franchise launcher, not part of a comic book universe and not a sequel, and the movie’s many accomplishments seem even more impressive. And what about Cruise? Not only does he give his usual excellent performance as Cage evolves from jackass to savage yet humane warrior, but he has provided the common element for several of the best big-budget sci-fi movies of the past 15 years, including Vanilla Sky (2000), Minority Report (2002), War of the Worlds (2005), the underrated Oblivion (2013) and now this.
I’m not going to get into speculation about the origins of or reasons for Cruise’s seeming fascination with the genre, but he has certainly picked stories that at least attempt to find the right balance between the modern action requirements of today’s blockbusters and the more cerebral concepts that sci-fi can offer at its best. Are you a science fiction fan who wants to see fresh genre material make it to the screen? Then you owe it to yourself to go out and see Edge of Tomorrow and support it with your dollars. Heck, you might even want to experience the whole thing again when it’s over.
Edge of Tomorrow is out in theaters Friday, June 6.