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.