If at first you don’t succeed, get covered in boiling alien blood and try, try again.
What the forgettably titled Edge of Tomorrow most reminds us, however, is that Tom Cruise is at his best when not playing an outright hero. His character in Doug Liman’s new film, “Major” William Cage, is a sleazy PR guy dropped in the middle of a warzone, Jerry Maguire in the middle of Starship Troopers. Pragmatically uninterested on the being on the front line of the last big push, Cage nevertheless finds himself caught up in the D-Day-style final assault.
What follows are snatches of horror reminiscent of Saving Private Ryan (with a few sci-fi touches) – a man wandering around in a mech-suit while on fire – before the confused Cage and his whole unit are brutally wiped out. And then he wakes up back on the base, doomed to live out the day again.
You see, the ‘90s movies references don’t stop there: Cage has found himself caught in a time loop straight outta Groundhog Day. Like Bill Murray in that movie, he learns to adapt, to predict – watch him beat Bill Paxton’s crazy-eyed Kentucky drill sergeant to the punch mid-spiel. Unlike Bill Murray, however, he has to die. Over and over and over.
Whatever he says, not matter how he tries to weasel his way out, soon enough Cage ends up back on that beach, battling those chimerical, squid-like Mimics, Gundam-style. Before too long, he makes the acquaintance of one Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) AKA The Angel of Verdun AKA The Full Metal Bitch. His repressed and angry time-traveling predecessor, she trains him, teaches him how to make full use of his abilities and possibly save mankind – of course.
It’s in these moments, with Cruise being blasted around like a human pinball, Edge of Tomorrow is a video-game movie. Arguably, this is Groundhog Day for the Call of Duty/Halo generation. As dispiriting as that sounds, Liman’s direction is energetic and to-the-point, as if the script by Chris McQuarrie and playwright Jez Butterworth, focused while having fun with the concept. It even works as an unlikely parable about rigorous self-improvement.
If the nature of the time travel remains unclear – a bon mot delivered after one of Cruise’s deaths suggests multiple timelines a la Source Code – and the film’s ending ultimately lacks the courage of its self-sacrificial convictions, Edge of Tomorrow it’s still the best sci-fi movie of the year so far; even if not quite be the sum of its parts.
Cruise’s recent commitment to the genre finally seems to be paying off. We’ll make a Charlton Heston of him yet.