If you didn’t get enough of the time travel thing with “X-Men: Days of Future Past” earlier this month, fear not: “Edge of Tomorrow” will throw you for a loop. Or a hundred. It’s kind of like that level of “Call of Duty” you can’t seem to get past.
In an undisclosed time in the future, unstoppable, amorphous aliens called ‘mimics’ have taken over a good portion of the planet. Tom Cruise plays media liaison Major William Cage, an officer who’s more comfortable being in front of a camera than firing a weapon.
A departure from the usual “best of the best” type roles that we’ve become so accustomed to seeing Cruise occupy over the last few decades, Cage is the anti-Ethan Hunt; he’s so unheroic, in fact, that he blackmails a General (Brendan Gleeson) to avoid accompanying a camera crew into the combat zone.
When the plan backfires, Cage finds himself dumped with an infantry unit that’s headed exactly where he doesn’t want to go: to the front lines of a massive offensive to quell an alien stronghold in France. Everyone is slaughtered in the attack, including Cage, who gets his face melted off when killing one of the enemy ‘alphas’ (the particulars of his demise are important to the scientific integrity of the premise).
It’s “Groundhog Day” meets “Aliens” meets “Stripes”, as Cage wakes up to his destiny: to relive the day over and over until he can figure out how to defeat the enemy. He must die each time to do so, but not before outsmarting his own personal Sgt. Hulka, the creepily exuberant Farrell (Bill Paxton). Believing that he’s a deserter, Farrell assures Cage that he’ll find redemption on the battlefield.
Director Doug Liman (“Mr. and Mrs. Smith”) brings to the screen a script adapted from the Japanese YA novel “All You Need is Kill” by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, and the film shows few scars of rewrites from Christopher McQuarrie (“Jack Reacher”) who took the reins from Jez and John-Henry Butterworth (Simon Kinberg of “X-Men: Days of Future Past” apparently had a hand as well). It’s a terrific concept that leaves plenty of room for humor, and never takes itself seriously enough to warrant heavy scrutiny of its many plot holes.
But as seamless as the story is, with Cruise’s character developing his super-soldier skills as he gets killed in alternately nasty and comical ways, “Edge of Tomorrow” inevitably becomes what everyone might expect it to be. By the time the climactic battle scene rolls around, its brain-pretzelling sci-fi concept has mostly given way to the typical trappings of a mindless summer action blockbuster, overwrought with CGI (much of it takes place at night, so avoid the 3D) and lacking in logic. The creatures, save the alpha, are rather sloppy and unimaginative. There are shades of everything from “The Matrix Revolutions” to “Pacific Rim” here, and for a film that seemed like it was put together with painstaking attention to continuity, it definitely deserves better.
The best part of the film is Emily Blunt, who plays Cage’s mentor Rita Vrataski. She’s the poster child – quite literally – for the military, known as the “full metal bitch”, who once possessed Cage’s ability to “Live Die Repeat”, as the tagline says, but lost it when coming within inches of death, surviving due to a blood transfusion. She trains Cage how to use his combat suit, an exoskeleton outfitted with more ammo than an anti-aircraft tank (think Matt Damon’s gear from “Elysium”, only more substantial). Blunt starred in another, though altogether different type of time-travel film, 2012’s “Looper”. Now that was a movie that worked the time travel conundrum like no other.
It’s fun to watch something that is derivative of so many great films but that is clearly aimed for something loftier. The infantry unit, for example, pays homage to the crew in “Aliens” right down to the tough-as-balls chick who looks like she’d been cleaning chimneys all day (Charlotte Riley). And I’m sure Bill Paxton’s inclusion was no accident.
Cruise starred in a better film last year called “Oblivion”. Though conceptually just as absurd, if not more so, Joseph Kosinki’s gorgeous sci-fi twister approached a similar premise from a different angle. It took an idea that probably looked preposterous on paper and turned it into an incredibly engaging, visually stunning experience, becoming more engrossing as it progressed. “Edge of Tomorrow” looks like a home run – and no doubt it will be at the box office – but ultimately plays it safe. The film is perpetually on the edge of greatness, so to speak, but settles for just being good.