The time-shifting sci-fi thriller Edge of Tomorrow has perfectly encapsulated what it is to be a summertime moviegoer. We're dropped into a battlefield of digital effects with the fate of the world at stake. Torrents of gunfire and explosions surround. Some alien clonks us over the head.
But in the film directed by Doug Liman (Swingers, The Bourne Identity), the action-star persona of Cruise is put into a phantasmagorical blender. As military marketer Maj. William Cage, he's thrown into battle against his will by an unsympathetic general (the excellent Brendan Gleeson), and then finds himself stuck in a mysterious time loop.
The selling point of Edge of Tomorrow may indeed be seeing one of Hollywood's most divisive icons reduced to Wile E. Coyote. He's like a real-life version of the video game “Contra,” with the code of seemingly endless life. Dying again and again, Cruise has rarely been so likable.
Based on the 2004 Japanese novella “All You Need Is Kill,” Edge of Tomorrow begins in the de rigueur fashion of news clips that catch us up on five years of alien invasion that has – with historical symmetry – encompassed Europe and left the beaches of northern France as the primary point of battle.
The Mimics resemble black, scampering dreadlock wigs or electrified Rorschach Tests. When a particularly big one swallows Cage, his day resets. This is “Groundhog Day” with guns.
This time around, though, it's not Sonny and Cher that wake him up each day but a drill sergeant calling him “maggot.” Whereas Bill Murray got to learn how to play the piano and fall in love, Cage must become a better killer. He strives to make it through the battle, getting a little further each time before dying. He quickly pairs with the most celebrated fighter in the war (Emily Blunt), who recognizes his strange predicament.