Edge of Tomorrow is slick, fast, clever and, as a bonus for Tom Cruise’s less enthusiastic admirers, it allows us to see the star killed over and over in various inelegant and often rather offhand scenarios. It also has all the depth of a dried-up lake on a midsummer day. Of course, it doesn’t really pretend to be deep, despite its time-travel premise. The movie really is nothing more than Groundhog Day with aliens and mayhem and less emotional resonance. But as long as you don’t think about it too much, especially the ending, it’s entertaining enough. Whether you’ll remember it much past the parking lot is another consideration entirely. In that regard, let’s just say I feel a certain urgency in writing this while I still remember it.
This is one of those alien-invasion things where the “fate of the world” is in one person’s hands. Unfortunately, that person is Maj. William Cage (Cruise), who is a military man in name only. He joined up when his business went south, and his skills are limited to being a morale-boosting PR man for the military. For reasons that have more to do with the plot than logical thinking, Gen. Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) decides it’d be great for morale to have Cage, who has never fought anything anywhere at any time, involved in a decisive D-Day-like invasion on Normandy Beach in France. Cage demurs, so he’s tasered, demoted to a private and packed off to serve in one of those outfits of misfits the movies love. He fares about as well in the invasion as you’d think, which is to say he quickly expires in a spray of acid-like alien blood. Ah, but this was the blood of an alpha alien and had special properties, with results not wholly unlike Siegfried bathing in the dragon’s blood. It hasn’t exactly rendered him invincible, but it does return him to the same point where he woke up the day before every time he dies, allowing him to play out the same scenario over and over, presumably till he gets it right.
If this sounds a lot like a videogame where shooting Cruise in the head is the reset button that allows you to keep trying to get to the next level, well, it is. What makes it more interesting than it might be is that Cruise’s Cage isn’t really the hero of the piece. That honor goes to Emily Blunt (shockingly listed below the title so Cruise is clearly the star) as special forces operative Rita Vrataski. Cage knows her well as the poster girl for his PR campaign. She’s already been through what Cage is going though and it’s up to her, between resets, to turn the wimpy, cowardly Cage into Tom Cruise, action hero. She’s the best thing about the movie, especially in those scenes where she realizes Cage has blown it again and just shoots him in the head so they can start over. Her sangfroid in these moments is delicious.
The film is smartly structured so that the repeated scenes grow increasingly shorter and are varied enough to side-step the inherent pitfall of boredom. The action is solid, even though none of it is remarkable in any way. (I am beginning to think it is close to impossible to make action scenes that are more than efficient any longer.) Dark-edged humor helps the film to no end, even if the heroics are sometimes less than fully satisfying, and the ending feels more than slightly specious. Edge of Tomorrow was clearly created to boost the faltering careers of both Cruise (who seems incapable of ruling the box office these days unless the words “Misssion Impossible” are involved) and director Doug Liman. Judging by the opening weekend, it has not succeeded, which is too bad, because as summer movie fare is concerned, this is better than most. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language and brief suggestive material.