Earth is at war with an advanced alien race. After years of defeats, setbacks and massive casualties humanity seems on the verge of a breakthrough as a united world army prepares a surprise attack. Major William Cage (Tom Cruise), a smug, self-serving public relations officer who has never seen a day of combat is unexpectedly dropped into what amounts to a suicide mission. Killed within minutes, Cage finds himself inexplicably thrown into a time loop forcing him to live out the same brutal battle over and over, fighting and dying, again and again. But with each battle Cage becomes able to engage the enemy with increasing skill. No one believes his crazy time-looping story except for combat-hardened Special Forces warrior Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) who has remarkably been through the same thing. Together Cage and Vrataski struggle to find some way to break free of the time loop and defeat the aliens.
Mis-marketing and lingering ill will towards Tom Cruise's previous forays into science fiction were supposedly the reason why Edge of Tomorrow struggled to draw a big audience during its theatrical run. Yet genre fans owe it to themselves to seek out this gem, adapted from the Japanese light novel 'All You Need is Kill' by Hiroshi Sakaruzaka. Shot under that original title the change from Edge of Tomorrow to Live. Die. Repeat and back again probably confused punters even more but the film itself is thrilling, visceral, thought-provoking and unexpectedly witty. On a superficial level it is a sci-fi Groundhog Day (1993). The plot pits the initially, indeed bravely for a major movie starring the Cruiser, unlikeable protagonist through a range of variations on the same bleak scenario as Cage shifts from panic to denial, resignation to determination, gradually blossoming into a true hero.
Fate is the theme central to the movie which in many ways echoes Doug Liman's similarly time-bending comedy drama Go (1999). Co-authored by playwright and director Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth and frequent Cruise collaborator Christopher McQuarrie the screenplay poses many fascinating questions. Are we subject to the capricious whims of an uncaring universe? Or can we shape our own destiny? Some chose to interpret Edge of Tomorrow as an allegory for the soldier's lot in life. Indeed the film hammers home the weight of sacrifice and enduring endless grinding days of suffering, hardship and death. At a key juncture the protagonist realizes the enemy already knows the future but grows to believe that such knowledge can be liability. In other words our own understanding that death is inevitable matters less than what we chose to do with that knowledge and how we lead our lives.
Aside from its heady philosophical angle the film is also hysterically funny. Cage's ongoing deja-vu inspires an array of gags and his deadpan reaction to each darkly comedic death ("Aw, man") is equally amusing. Indeed Edge of Tomorrow might play just as well to Cruise haters for the opportunity to see him die, again and again. Nevertheless, this is not the cocksure young hero of Top Gun (1986). Cruise takes a bold step with this movie, portraying a smarmy, even cowardly former ad executive who "can't stand the sight of blood." Horrified to learn he must actually fight in battle, Cage tries everything he can to get out of joining the first wave (blackmail, deserting, even begging). Yet the joy comes from watching him evolve into an increasingly sympathetic, caring and heroic lead. Basically, morphing into Tom Cruise.
With Bill Paxton back fighting aliens again, and clearly relishing his role as a hard-ass drill sergeant, a rogues' gallery of war-weary grunts, robot combat suits and Emily Blunt outstanding and utterly convincing as ball-busting "full metal bitch" Rita Vrataski, Edge of Tomorrow tips its hat in the direction of James Cameron. As in Aliens (1986) the film takes the time to craft distinct personalities and ensure we care about each supporting player whilst also evoking Saving Private Ryan (1998) through its chaotic depiction of the sheer overwhelming visceral terror of mass combat. Yet Doug Liman also gives the film its own distinctive identity. The gradual thawing of the relationship between Cage and Vrataski is beautifully drawn and totally believable which is not always the case in action films. The supporting cast has a pleasingly multinational flavour. Liman wisely avoids imbuing the action with the casual detachment of a video-game. His action sequences are frenetic, disorientating and horrific. People die suddenly, violently and horribly at random while the rapidly morphing tentacled horrors prove a vivid and terrifying alien menace.
Pacy American director and producer, who after his humorous thriller debut Getting In, achieved cult success with comedies Swingers and Go. He then moved onto bigger budget projects with action premises with The Bourne Identity, Mr and Mrs Smith, Jumper and Edge of Tomorrow, then lower budget war flick The Wall.
Maybe this didn't find a mass audience because it's actually pretty tedious. Funny how what was successful in Groundhog Day is a real drag here, mostly because this isn't all that funny. It could be down to me never finding Cruise particularly sympathetic, but I didn't warm to him any more at the end than the beginning, and the whole premise was alarmingly close to the Scientology auditing process where you undergo the same test and memory recall over and over again until you're "clear", that is a typical Cruiser smug persona. No surprise that the alien invasion begins in Germany, where Scientology is given very short shrift. Also, the depiction of aliens was a vile slur on the Flying Spaghetti Monster.