“The Edge of Tomorrow,” a big-budget sci-fi action epic that melds elements of “Starship Troopers” with “Groundhog Day,” has been earning the sort of reviews usually reserved for Shakespeare adaptations.
This says less about “The Edge of Tomorrow” than about the generally dismal state of the action movie.
Still, the film does have a few things going for it, starting out with Tom Cruise as we’ve never before seen him (playing a physical coward), and extending through the dry humor with which director Doug Liman (“The Bourne Identity,” “Mr. and Mrs. Smith”) approaches his offbeat tale.
But for all that, it’s still a big-budget action movie in which crashbangboom trumps all other considerations.
In the near future, Earth is under attack by an alien species we humans have nicknamed the Mimics. These are tentacled creatures (they look a bit like the Sentinels from the “Matrix” flicks) that roll around like tumbleweeds, shooting off sparks and tearing up those unfortunate enough to stand in their path.
The Mimics pretty much own Europe, having plowed across the continent. Now they are preparing to jump the English Channel to overrun Britain.
Major William Cage (Cruise) is a U.S. Army public relations specialist stunned to learn that he’s been ordered to shoot combat footage of the first wave of troops to storm the beaches at Normandy. Cage protests that he’s a word man, not a gun guy, that he’s never been trained for combat, that he’ll only get in the way, that he faints at the sight of blood. In fact, like any sane individual, he’s terrified of the horrors that await him.
For his cowardice Cage is demoted to the rank of private and assigned to a unit preparing to ship out. The very next day — wearing a steel exo-skeleton that increases his strength but which he doesn’t yet know how to operate — he dies during the battle, crushed beneath the bloody body of the Mimic who killed him. And then…
Boom. He wakes up 24 hours earlier, just as he’s being turned over by the MPs to his new combat unit. Damned if his experiences don’t repeat themselves exactly. Only this time he lives a few seconds longer because he knows what’s coming. Still, he dies, and wakes up at the very same moment 24 hours earlier.
Evidently the alien blood in which Cage was soaked has given him the ability to time jump. Every time he dies he returns to that same starting point back in England.
This is explained to Cage — and to us — by Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), a woman warrior who has achieved poster-girl fame for her combat exploits. Rita — who battles the Mimics with a curious weapon that looks like a high-tech cricket bat — explains that she had the same thing happen to her, but that she lost the time-jumping ability when she was given a transfusion of human blood.
Now she will train Cage in how to fight and survive against the Mimics. Together they will go through dozens of lives (and deaths) until they discover the location of the alien hive and destroy it.
Every time they hit a dead end, every time they’re cornered or unable to advance, Rita shoots Cage (though he will on occasion argue for a few more minutes of life). And, presto, they’re back in England starting the story all over again.
Unlike the classic Bill Murray comedy “Groundhog Day,” which had the same premise of a guy reliving the same day over and over until he finally “gets it right,” “The Edge of Tomorrow” ignores the mind-bending implications of repeating the same 24 hours — with incremental variations — for what amounts to hundreds of days or perhaps an entire eternity.
The screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, and John-Henry Butterworth is about motion and action. They have little time for existential musings when in each successive life William is moving ever closer to a final showdown with the Mimic queen.
It’s nice to see Cruise in non-heroic mode (though of course through repeated lives his Cage does achieve heroic status). Blunt is effective as the lethal Rita. There are a nice supporting perfs from Bill Paxton and Noah Taylor.
But the main attraction remains crashbangboom.