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A narratively ambitious sci-fi actioner, Edge of Tomorrow plays out a familiar alien invasion apocalypse drama in a way that, through repetition, allows humanity to learn from its mistakes and have a shot at surviving until another movie’s monsters from outer space show up. Picking yourself up to fight another day might work for the characters, but battle fatigue eventually sets in for viewers as Doug Liman‘s film keeps folding back on itself time and time again. Tom Cruise and gigantic action scenes assure sizable openings internationally, but several commercial question marks hover over this expensive Warner Bros. release, including the second-tier tentpole grosses for the star’s recent action outings (other than for the Mission: Impossible franchise), a title that sounds like it belongs on an old daytime soap opera and, most significantly, the extent to which audiences will tire of the let’s-play-it-over-again storyline.
Based on a well-regarded 2004 novel by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, the clever script by Christopher McQuarrie and Jez and John-Henry Butterworth not only plays with time and the way technology could be used to upgrade human capabilities, but takes a relatively playful attitude toward the familiar battle tropes. Even the ever-image-conscious Cruise allows himself and his character to be made fun of, as his U.S. Army Major William Cage, a PR guy and wily spin doctor, is an acknowledged wimp who’s never seen combat and tries every trick to wriggle out of being sent to the front, which is exactly what Gen. Brigham (Brendan Gleeson, in amusingly scornful form) intends to do with him.
The general gets to spout such fresh lines as, “All of humanity is at stake,” which is the case this time because of something called “the mimic scourge,” an invasion of ferocious metallic spidery critters with way too many tendrils that whip around like crazy and pierce you like javelins. The mimics have taken over even more European territory than the Nazis did and are on the verge of sacking the U.K., a fate the allied United Defense Force is trying to avoid with the self-explanatory D-Day 2.0.
Except it’s not going well. Despite the considerable manpower and heavy hardware the UDF throws at the enemy, the Normandy beaches are littered with human detritus. It’s impossible to imagine that the addition of the cowardly Cage, who’s been demoted to private, will alter the UDF’s fortunes in any way. “I’m not a soldier,” he protests, and promptly proves it by being offed within moments of chuting down into a battle that is way beyond anything Private Ryan ever faced.
Created specifically to kill, the mimics snap, swirl, dart, lunge, whip and assault like an octopus on speed. They can be stopped, but only with great difficulty, and it’s hard to see where they are, much less judge when and from what direction they will strike. For their part, the soldiers are so heavily armed and armored that they resemble half-men, half-machines; they’re like robo-grunts, clomping around in what look like giant ski boots and surrounded by exoskeleton machine-gun arms.
One warrior doesn’t wear a helmet, ostensibly because she bravely shuns them but perhaps also because she looks so much better without one. She’s Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), the Achilles of the UDF, the Audie Murphy of the beach, the Joan of Arc who inspires everyone else to fight harder and better. The interplay between her and the inept Cage, as well as the other half-dozen members of J Squad, is moderately amusing at first. He keeps getting killed, but then, thanks to a playing-God-type technological breakthrough, he wakes up on the same morning ready to undertake the same mission again. The process repeats so often that it becomes a time loop that pushes him further and further into the battle, enabling him to do a bit better each time.
More crucially still, Cage catches a glimpse of the Omega, the elusive brain behind the mimics. Vrataski has determined that the only way to win the war is to destroy the Omega, so she and Cage embark upon a rigorous training program, the fruits of which will, as they like to say in movies like this, determine the fate of the planet.
Although the humor helps, the Groundhog Day-like repetition gets tedious; it makes you feel more like a hamster than a groundhog — or rather a hamster’s wheel, going round and round, over and over again. Unfortunately, the final stretch becomes dramatically unconvincing and visually murky, as the valiant duo follow the scent of the Omega to its unlikely hideout under the glass pyramid at the Louvre, where a seriously underwhelming and downright odd final reckoning takes place. If the Omega is so smart, can’t it rewind the results too for a better outcome?
The effects are exciting, convincing and gritty in the chaotic Normandy battle action, which is filmed in a vivid you-are-there style. Supporting-role casting decisions seem to have been based more on humor than brawn, with Gleeson and especially Bill Paxton as the troop leader contributing a healthy amount of levity for this sort of fare.
But these guys essentially disappear in the late-going, leaving it to the stars to do the heavy lifting during the least engaging section, making for a sense of considerably diminished returns. Cruise’s self-deprecation plays well, a good thing in that he’s really too old for this role, while Blunt is toned, burnished and physically refurbished into a blunt object, something she’s never remotely resembled before.
Production company: 3 Arts
Cast: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Brendan Gleeson, Bill Paxton, Jonas Armstrong, Tony Way, Kick Gurry, Franz Drameh, Dragomir Mrsic, Charlotte Riley
Director: Doug Liman
Screenwriters: Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, based on the novel All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka
Producers: Erwin Stoff, Tom Lassally, Jeffrey Silver, Gregory Jacobs, Jason Hoffs
Executive producers: Doug Liman, David Bartis, Steven Mnuchin, Joby Harold, Hidemi Fukuhara, Bruce Berman
Director of photography: Dion Beebe
Production designer: Oliver Scholl
Costume designer: Kate Hawley
Editors: James Herbert, Laura Jennings
Music: Christophe Beck
Visual effects supervisor: Nick Davis
Rated PG-13, 113 minutes
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