There’s a pretty good chance that every review about “Edge of Tomorrow” will reference the 1993 comedy “Groundhog Day” at least once, and that’s because both films feature a very similar plot device, not unlike the one that was also employed in Duncan Jones’ underseen sci-fi thriller, “Source Code.” But while it may not be the first time that someone has thought of the loop-based time travel concept, “Edge of Tomorrow” is a truly original piece of science fiction that Hollywood should make more often. Clever, fun and surprisingly bold, the film also represents a return to form for director Doug Liman, who makes up for his last foray into the genre (the dull and disappointing “Jumper”) with the first great movie of the summer season.
Based on the Japanese novel “All You Need is Kill” (a title that Liman should have fought tooth and nail to keep), the film takes place in a near future where Earth has been invaded by an alien race known as Mimics. With most of Europe already lost, the world’s leaders plan to launch a synchronized, all-or-nothing attack on the enemy in an attempt to gain the upper hand. But when Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) – a hotshot spin doctor for the U.S. Army – is ordered onto the front line in a bid to rally public support, he tries to blackmail the general (Brendan Gleeson) responsible and is arrested, stripped of his rank and deployed anyway. Cage has absolutely no combat training, and he dies within minutes of landing on the battlefield… only to wake up back at the base camp 24 hours earlier. Caught in an infinite loop where he must repeat the same day over and over again (with his death serving as the reset button), Cage discovers that he’s been infected with the Mimics’ ability to control time. Desperate for answers, he teams up with Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) – a celebrated war hero who acquired the same powers before eventually losing them – to track down the alien hive and put an end to the war.
“Edge of Tomorrow” really is the ultimate Tom Cruise movie. Those who like the actor will enjoy watching him thrive in one of his best roles in years, while those who hate Cruise get to watch him die about 50 times over the course of the film. And regardless of which side you fall on, it’s a lot of fun to see the actor playing a cowardly wimp for once, even just for a little bit, because although it’s only a matter of time before Cruise slips back into the comfort of his usual role as the heroic leading man, his performance in the first half is much more entertaining. Emily Blunt is also in top form as the face of the war effort – a total badass who wields a helicopter blade as a sword and is nicknamed Full Metal Bitch by her fellow soldiers – and Bill Paxton delivers a hilarious supporting turn as a scene-chewing Master Sergeant in charge of Cage’s military unit.
In fact, the movie as a whole is much funnier than people probably expect, using comedy to help break up the monotonous nature of the story. It feels like a video game at times, with Cage progressing further in his mission (through simple trial and error and training from Rita) with every new attempt. But in order to succeed, Cage has to fail first, and that failure is played for really big laughs thanks to a combination of smart writing, great actors and pitch-perfect editing by James Herbert. The latter is especially important to the movie’s success, not only for the comedic beats, but in doling out new information without forcing the audience to sit through the exact same scenes over and over again. “Edge of Tomorrow” isn’t without its faults – the script has some logistical problems (including its deus ex machina ending) and the final act is pretty generic compared to the rest of the movie – but those are minor annoyances for a film that proves to be such a satisfying breath of fresh air in a summer packed with sequels.