Groundhog Day-meets-Starship Troopers is the pitch for Doug Liman’s first foray into sci-fi since the disastrous 2008’s Jumper saw a would-be franchise unravel before it got going. Thankfully this smart, taut actioner is of the standard we usually expect from the maverick filmmaker who brought us The Bourne Identity and Mr. And Mrs. Smith after grabbing Hollywood’s lapels with hip indie Swingers.
Tom Cruise is Lt. Col. Bill Cage, a wimpy PR strategist content to sit out the fight when US troops pour into England to help stem the alien invasion that’s sweeping through Europe. Then he pisses off the wrong people and finds himself locked into a heavily weaponised exosuit and cast into the frontline of a beach invasion. Mere minutes into battle, he splats off his mortal coil.
Short movie? Well, here’s the hook: Cage jolts awake at the exact spot he inhabited 24 hours before, and again finds himself thrust into action. He dies, resets, dies, resets (each death ghastlier than the last), and Edge Of Tomorrow (game)plays out with this reluctant soldier having to find his way off the Saving Private Ryan-esque beach before graduating to the next level: rescuing the world.
The movie offers a clever spin on Cruise’s frequent journey as a leading man: instead of going from cocksure git to compassionate hero via a crisis, he here travels from cowardly git to compassionate hero via the mother (or should that be Alien Queen?) of all crises.
The time-loop works. Far from being the multiplex equivalent of a trek to the laundry, the spin-cycle lends a fresh tilt to the time-worn Us vs. Them genre, with Liman and Cruise serving humour and invention to ensure each rewind veers into territory as unexpected as it is familiar. Not that it’s all about the boys. Aiding Cruise on his seemingly impossible mission is a pumped-up Emily Blunt as supersoldier Rita Vrataski aka Full Metal Bitch. Together they tackle wave after wave of tentacular-tastic E.T.s, all the while trying to balance a curiously one-sided relationship (he knows her well, she’s just met him).
The breakneck pace leaves little room for meaningful character development, and the climax, set in a flooded Paris, fails to match the handheld ballistics of the earlier scenes. But there’s imagination, spectacle and thrills to spare. There’s a freshness here too that comes not only from the structure, but from Edge Of Tomorrow being a shiny new property in this cyclical age of sequels, prequels and spin-offs.
Liman brings the anarchic fizz of Looney Tunes to a big-budget studio film, while having the balls to cast Cruise as a coward. One to watch again and again and again...