Just like his character in Edge of Tomorrow, Tom Cruise seems to be mysteriously stuck in time, repeating certain events over and over again. Now over 50 and nearly a decade past jumping onto Oprah’s couch, he’s still clinging to the notion that he’s a bona fide movie star, a formidable action hero and an irresistible romantic lead. And while Edge of Tomorrow may amount to little more than a modestly clever slice of sci-fi pulp—a decent B-movie distraction with an A-level budget—the movie’s minor miracle is that it almost makes us believe everything Cruise is selling.
To be fair, outside of unexpected franchise-best Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Cruise’s recent movies haven’t been all that interesting, and the resulting toll they’ve taken on his star power has more to do with lackluster material than substandard work on his part. From the bland Jack Reacher to the dismal Rock of Ages, Cruise always gives his all. That level of commitment is on display again in Edge of Tomorrow, in which Cruise stars as slick military spokesman, Major William Cage.
Cage spends his days in the film’s near-future setting spinning the armed forces’ ongoing efforts against a hostile alien race dubbed Mimics, without ever setting foot on a battlefield. At least until a gruff general (Brendan Gleeson) sends him on a particularly dicey mission. The result is Cage’s death, but the story doesn’t end there. Instead Cage awakes at the beginning of the day he died with his memory intact, and quickly discovers the resurrections will recur every time he dies. His only hope of escaping the endless cycle lies with super-soldier Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), who knows from experience exactly how Cage might be able to use this new ability to help humanity win the war of the worlds.
Based on the manga All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka and adapted for the screen by Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects) and Jez and John-Henry Butterworth (upcoming James Brown bio-pic Get On Up), Edge of Tomorrow recalls other notable time loop sagas, including Groundhog Day and Source Code in the witty and engaging way it moves its story forward piece by piece. As Cage relives the same day over and over again, he also learns how to become a true soldier, trains with (and falls for) Rita, discovers how the Mimics function, and ever so patiently formulates the perfect plan of attack. Like a video game hero with infinite lives, Cage has the opportunity to refine and correct every mistake he makes along the way.
As long as Cage is on that journey, Edge of Tomorrow is a blast, and Cruise carries the surprisingly amusing action like a pro—his skill with deadpan comedy proving even more valuable than his famous enthusiasm for doing his own stunts. It’s easy to imagine this role going to someone two decades his junior, but Cruise brings the full force of his superstar charisma to bear on the part. He’s never been one to coast through a performance, but Cruise feels particularly engaged here. Perhaps it’s a warning to whippersnappers like Bradley Cooper or Channing Tatum that he’s not quite done with leading man roles just yet?
With that in mind, if there’s any argument to make for a different lead it would be for a more age-appropriate match for Blunt. Maybe a younger actor could’ve developed better chemistry in the increasingly important romantic subplot. But that would ignore the problem that Blunt is less credible in her hardass role to begin with, and far more dispensable overall given the film’s general lack of interest in anyone who isn’t Cruise/Cage. (Now imagine for a moment Nicolas Cage in the lead, and how far off course that version might have gone.)
Eventually our hero has to reach the final level of this feature-length video game and complete his mission, and that’s where Edge of Tomorrow disappointingly succumbs to the routine territory of third act showdowns in post-apocalyptic sci-fi. You know the drill: nest invasion, bomb drop, heroic sacrifice, last-minute twist. Cruise even went through it all on his last movie: the pretty but dim Oblivion, which occupies a rung just below this one on the sci-fi food chain.
Nevertheless, director Doug Liman seems intent to make up for the setbacks of his last two features (back-to-back flops Jumper and Fair Game) and reclaim his place as the big-time Hollywood director hot off of The Bourne Identity and Mr. and Mrs. Smith. He handles the action fairly well on balance. Even if the war sequences lean a bit too heavily on Saving Private Ryan-style chaos and the Mimics never blossom beyond generic extraterrestrial monsters, Liman’s approach proves more than efficient for a pulse-pounding thrill ride.
Maybe it’s exactly because both Liman and Cruise have something to prove at this point in their careers that Edge of Tomorrow makes enough of an impact to overcome its flaws. At least until the season’s next distraction comes along.
Director: Doug Liman
Writer: Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth; based on the novel All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka
Starring: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Brendan Gleeson, Bill Paxton, Noah Taylor
Release Date: June 6, 2014