The Unexpected Pleasures of Edge of Tomorrow

Director Doug Liman imbues the Groundhog-Day-meets-Starship-Troopers Tom Cruise vehicle with wit and panache.
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Tom Cruise lands on a French beach, D-Day-like, and is torn apart by a glowing, tentacled alien.

Tom Cruise lands on a French beach, D-Day-like, and has a hole punched through his chest while protecting another soldier from enemy fire.

Tom Cruise lands on a French beach, D-Day-like, and is squashed by a helicopter falling from the sky.

It’s not, in short, a good day to be Tom Cruise—or rather, Private William Cage, the character he plays in his new film Edge of Tomorrow. Nor does his day get any better: blown to smithereens, run over by a jeep, shot in the head—you name it, he suffers it. Forget last week’s critically reviled Seth MacFarlane comedy-western. It’s Cruise’s film that might all too plausibly have been titled A Million Ways to Die in the Future.

If you’ve read anything at all about Edge of Tomorrow, it is likely that two of the words you’ve read have been “Groundhog Day,” and there’s good reason for this. Director Doug Liman’s sharp, infectiously entertaining sci-fi thriller offers a lethal spin on Harold Ramis’s 1993 high-concept comedy: Rather than overcome existential ennui, a la Bill Murray’s Phil Connors, Cage must embrace the certainty that before his very long day ends—if in fact it ever does—he is certain to die many, many more times, in many, many more ways.

To rewind a bit: Edge of Tomorrow (based on the Japanese novel All You Need Is Kill) is set in a near-future in which a methodical alien species dubbed “Mimics” has touched down in Germany and, over the course of five years, gradually overtaken most of Western Europe. The sole human victory over the invaders has been at Verdun—yes, that Verdun—where a heroic soldier in a robotic exoskeleton, Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), single-handedly killed more than 100 Mimics and in the process became an icon of the resistance.

Enter Cruise’s character, the callow William Cage. When first we meet him, he is an Army major, a principal TV spokesman for the war effort, and an exceptional coward. But after an ill-considered run-in with a superior officer, he finds himself demoted, sent to the frontlines, and, soon enough, accidentally imbued with the peculiar ability to reset his day the moment he dies. From there, the general contours of the plot are largely set: By a process of trial and (inevitably lethal) error, Cage must find a way to defeat the Mimics, learning more and making it slightly farther with each attempt. He’s aided in his efforts by Vrataski, the “Angel of Verdun,” who has her own insights into the nature of his powers.

The conceit may sound constricting, but Liman (like Ramis before him) gets exceptional mileage out of it. The director is in top form here, presenting his ever-revolving tale with visual style, narrative velocity, and a wonderful dose of dark humor. There are echoes of Cruise’s last sci-fi outing, the less-bad-than-it’s-remembered Oblivion, and still more of Duncan Jones’s excellent 2011 time-travel whodunit Source Code. But Liman (Go, The Bourne Identity, Mr. & Mrs. Smith) lends the proceedings a more playful edge, and directs the action sequences with true panache. The early battle scenes on the beach, in particular, are a riveting ballet of blood and sand and fire and metal. (And aliens.) And despite the inevitable inanities underlying its time-travel premise, the movie does a relatively good job of adhering to its own internal logic.

Blunt offers a clearer display of the big-screen charisma she hinted at way back in The Devil Wears Prada than she has at perhaps any time since. Moreover, the film is a nice exception to the customary damsel-in-distress narrative: this time out, it’s Blunt who plays the battle-hardened vet.

Cruise, too, is better than he’s been in a long while. As an actor, he’s always relied overmuch on sheer intensity: a fiercer stare, a sharper grin, a more zealous commitment to performing his own stunts. But under Liman’s direction, he takes it easier—at least on occasion—than he has in years. Having experimented with broad comedy (Tropic Thunder, Rock of Ages) following the couch-jumping-and-Scientology derailment of his superstardom, he offers flashes here of a quieter, more ironic wit. There are even a few moments of understated tenderness (two words rarely associated with Cruise) between him and Blunt.

In its final act, unfortunately, Liman’s movie veers a bit off course. To belabor the analogy: If the first three quarters of the film reinvent Groundhog Day, the final quarter recalls, ever so slightly, the saggy conclusion of Stripes. (The script went through many iterations, and the ending was reportedly always considered problematic.)

That said, Edge of Tomorrow remains one of the pleasant surprises of this summer season to date, boasting magnetic leads, a wickedly looping plot, and bravura direction. It might not be quite the cinematic experience you want to re-live over and over again, but it’s well worth at least one go-round.

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Christopher Orr is a senior editor and the principal film critic at The Atlantic. He has written on movies for The New Republic, LA Weekly, Salon, and The New York Sun, and has worked as an editor for numerous publications.

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