Tom Cruise goes to war again and again with Edge of Tomorrow

Tom Cruise and sciencefiction have made uneasy big-screen bedfellows to this point.

Discounting Ridley Scott’s Legend (1985) – firmly a medieval fantasy, although plenty flawed – and Cameron Crowe’s unnecessary, underwhelming existential psychobabble Vanilla Sky (2001), Cruise has labored through Steven Spielberg’s 2002 adaptation of Minority Report (not bad, but hampered by an endless third act), Spielberg’s genuinely disappointing War of the World (2005), and the not-inappropriately titled 2013 saga Oblivion.

With Edge of Tomorrow, the outcome is a bit more favorable – both for its leading man and its director, Doug Liman, who displays a steadier hand here than in his previous time-travel outing, Jumper (2008).

The action takes place – over and over again, as the script’s concept dictates – in the near future, with Earth engaged in an ongoing worldwide war against interstellar invaders (called “Mimics”). Cruise’s Maj. William Cage is an inexperienced officer roped into the actual first-wave assault, where he is promptly killed within moments of landing on the battlefield.

At which point, the story rewinds to the exact moment when Cage is drafted into combat. He continues to die, but becomes cognizant that he is, indeed, repeating the past – condemned to die over and over again. The task at hand is for him to figure out why, and more importantly, how to possibly change the outcome so that he survives and the aliens are eradicated.

Based on Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s sci-fi novel All You Need is Kill, Edge of Tomorrow is a futuristic head-spinner in a Phillip K. Dick/Rod Serling/Matrix vein, replete with eye-popping (and sometimes excessive) special effects and some narrative sleight-of-hand.

The time-travel gimmick allows screenwriters Christopher McQuarrie (who directed Cruise in Jack Reacher) and siblings Jez and John-Henry But terworth to make – and break – the rules they’ve established for the proceedings. Yet they manage to keep the narrative on track, to their credit fairly steadily, without lapsing into total contrivance.

Cruise brings a nice balance of bewilderment and his customary earnestness to the role of an unlikely hero, Emily Blunt is fit and fetching as a fierce female warrior who comes to believe Cage’s outlandish claims, Noah Taylor is amusing and appealing as an egghead scientist who offers possible explanations (i.e. mumbo-jumbo) for this intriguing phenomenon, and burly Brendan Gleeson is suitably skeptical as the general in charge of the ill-fated operation. Best of all is the ever-reliable Bill Paxton, having a great time as the prototypical hard-nosed drill sergeant who never offers a sympathetic ear, preferring instead to bark the same commands … over and over again. He’s not there to listen to time-travel theories; he’s there to kick tail and take names, be they human or alien.

The aliens themselves, portrayed as roiling tentacles, are something of a disappointment. They’re fast and they’re lethal, but don’t have much of a personality (even in this context). It’s also best not to delve too deeply into the particulars of the story. Edge of Tomorrow doesn’t bear close scrutiny, but in a summer movie season chock full of big-budget, high-concept extravaganzas, the film’s concept is higher and more ambitious than most. !

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