Imagine Bill Murray’s suicide scenes from “Groundhog Day” as a futuristic science-fiction movie and you (sorta) have the groundwork for “Edge of Tomorrow.” High (yet familiar) in concept, “Tomorrow” puts a needed twist on alien invasion films, succeeding by telling a story much narrower in scope yet still big in terms of storytelling stakes.
Tom Cruise, rolling with sci fi yet again after last year’s solidly entertaining “Oblivion” stars as Major Cage, a high-ranking officer for the United Defense Force, a global military power created in the wake of an alien invasion that has seen Europe taken over by “Mimics,” extremely dangerous beast-insect hybrids with a penchant for world-conquering. Against his will, Cage (who has never seen combat) is dropped off at UDF’s Heathrow Airport base on the eve of a massive military operation. The operation is quickly compromised the morning of the battle, and Cage dies, but somehow he wakes up the day before. He dies again in battle, and wakes up again, and the cycle continues. He eventually discovers he has harnessed the enemy’s ability to reset time, and he must use it to defeat them.
“Edge of Tomorrow” resembles Ducan Jones’ “Source Code” only it swaps out thriller/mystery elements for straightforward action. “Tomorrow” has no twists or surprises, but it makes its way from plot point to plot point with enough panache to keep your blood pumping. Writer Christopher McQuarrie along with Jez and John-Henry Butterworth have crafted a basic three-act film that wouldn’t necessitate applause under normal circumstances, but under time alteration and a complex sci-fi context circumstances, that’s neat and tight work.
Whereas one might expect the film to take a misstep or step back in the second act after the novelty of the time-altering premise wears off, “Tomorrow” doesn’t. The screenplay’s million-dollar device here is to play with how much the audience knows, shifting from complete knowledge in the first act to keeping us in the dark the second. As Emily Blunt’s Rita, a soldier who was the hero of a previous battle with the Mimics, factors more into the story, the movie begins showing the action from her perspective instead of Cage’s, as if the events on screen have happened multiple times already but we don’t know it. It’s a drastically different form of suspense that really works.
Blunt, by the way, continues to shine as a leading actress. Rita is well beyond stereotypes of sci-fi leading ladies, as she’s self-determined, a bit of a brute and integral to the plot. Whereas her previous time-traveling effort in “Looper” was more supporting, she shares the lead in Cruise after her introduction in this film. Cruise also continues his mini-renaissance of sorts. His name doesn’t translate to box-office dollars the way that it used to, but ever since “Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol,” he has reminded everyone why he’s one of the best leading men in Hollywood, even at age 52.
In the midst of the many well-functioning elements of “Edge of Tomorrow,” it’s easy to forget director Doug Liman. The “Bourne Identity” and “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” director has among Hollywood’s most capable action hands when he’s working with the right material. He doesn’t do anything too flashy but he keeps the action intense and helps the story barrel forward. He has plenty of fun with the repeated sequences, such as a scene when Cage undergoes a painstaking training process and gets killed countless times because he’s not the quickest at picking up combat technique.
Great sci fi films change the genre. “Edge of Tomorrow” isn’t that kind of a film, but it does the next best thing: merge two familiar concepts that have never been put into the same film and present something familiar yet fresh. Rather than going for the giant alien invasion, this story is smaller, more focuses and more intelligent. It could try bigger ideas and bigger concepts on for size, but it does a lot of things very smartly and very well.
Edge of Tomorrow
Directed by Doug Liman
Written by Christopher McQuarrie, John-Henry and Jez Butterworth, Hiroshi Sakurazaka (novel)
Starring: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton