We all know about “movie logic,” referring to the ways in which the reality inside movies differs from the way the real world works. Lately, though, it seems that video game logic has invaded the movies, with the likes of Inception and Source Code mimicking games’ layered structures and characters whose deaths serve only as temporary setbacks. You can see this development as a reaction to Hollywood action cinema of the 1980s and ’90s, introducing an element of vulnerability to the unkillable hero without the finality that death brings. The science-fiction thriller Edge of Tomorrow follows in those footsteps, and while there’s a bit less than meets the eye here, it’s still a pretty clever piece of work.
The film is based on Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s 2004 illustrated Japanese novel All You Need Is Kill, which would have been a much cooler title than Edge of Tomorrow. It’s set in a Europe that has been overrun by a near-invincible alien race called Mimics that can anticipate the humans’ moves even before they’re made. Nevertheless, after a recent victory over the Mimics, a British-based multinational armed force is preparing a huge invasion to take back the continent, and they’re so sure of victory that they toss Maj. William Cage (Tom Cruise), an American who’s been serving as a TV mouthpiece for the military, onto the front lines over his vigorous protestations — and even though, despite his rank, he’s never been in combat. Sadly, the Mimics are ready, and they kill Cage and all his fellow soldiers within minutes of their landing on the beach.
Then a strange thing happens: Cage wakes up transported back to the day before the invasion, with his memories intact. His second time in the battle, he recognizes and then saves the life of Sgt. Rita Vratansky (Emily Blunt), a combat hero whose exploits in France have turned her into the face of the war effort and earned her the nicknames “The Angel of Verdun” and “Full Metal Bitch.” (Full Metal Bitch would have also been a good title.) She turns out to be the only person who knows what’s happening to Cage, and she recognizes that his ability to turn back time whenever he dies anew is the key to defeating the Mimics.
The casting has the odd and refreshing effect of making Cruise into the terrified neophyte and the much-younger Blunt into the battle-hardened mentor who trains him to fight the Mimics. You wouldn’t think the lead actress from The Five-Year Engagement and Salmon Fishing in the Yemen would make a credible action hero, but Blunt pulls it off effortlessly, looking muscled without losing her litheness and swinging a giant red blade against the Mimics with brutal efficiency. While Cruise is the headliner, she’s the pleasant surprise here, and the two actors collaborate nicely on a scene when Cage and Vratanski do a bit of ballet to get through a crowded hallway at military headquarters without being detected.
Director Doug Liman (Mr. and Mrs. Smith) works the story’s Groundhog Day-style gimmick for some solid comedy initially, as Cage uses his foreknowledge to short-circuit his conversations with his fellow soldiers and his hard-ass master sergeant (Bill Paxton, whose role here nicely complements his work in Aliens). Cage also dies in a number of farcical ways, often at the hands of Vratansky herself, who’d rather go back 24 hours than treat his broken bones or risk him being captured. The editing in this early going is punchy and rhythmic, but later it turns wearying, mirroring the fatigue that Cage feels at watching his comrades and Vratansky killed repeatedly before suffering the same fate himself. No wonder he takes a life off, going AWOL and finding his way to a London pub to have a beer before meeting yet another death.
The constantly looping plot allows for some felicitous things like an initial battle sequence that comes as close to depicting the hellish chaos of combat as the PG-13 rating will allow. The movie also gets in some delicious satire on pro-war media — how often have you seen some talking head like Cage bloviating about the military on TV and wished you could throw him into combat? None of this adds up to anything like a statement, but it does make for more things to appreciate. Having lost his stride with Jumper and Fair Game (his one stab at more serious drama), Liman regains it here and reminds you that he was put on this earth to make popcorn thrillers. The ingenuity he brings to this disposable project is a sign of why Hollywood blockbusters continue to rule the globe.
Edge of Tomorrow
Starring Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt. Directed by Doug Liman. Written by Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, and John-Henry Butterworth, based on Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s novel. Rated PG-13.