In Edge of Tomorrow, Tom Cruise tackles the sort of character we rarely see him play: A clueless wimp. In the future, as mankind is fighting off an alien invasion that has taken down most of the eastern hemisphere, Cruise plays William Cage, a U.S. Army Major whose primary job is to go on TV, put a positive spin on bad news with that million-watt smile, issue press releases on how well the effort is going and sit down for talk shows to assure the public that although the world is at stake, the government has our backs.
Then a general (Brendan Gleeson) tired of hearing him talk demotes Cage to private and ships him off to the front line — specifically Normandy Beach, the last foothold before the monsters take over for good and train their sights on North America. Cruise, used to playing cocky, know-it-all guys who rarely break a sweat, is amusing to watch as he flies into a panic, insisting there must have been some mistake as he’s outfitted in an exoskeleton loaded with weaponry, a powerful gun that he doesn’t know how to fire, and is dropped out of an airplane into the midst of the gigantic battle, where he is killed almost instantly. That sounds horrible, but it’s actually funny. Cruise plays the character’s terror for real, which makes his performance humorous: When was the last time you heard a befuddled Cruise ask “ How do you fire this thing?” in a movie?
Then the story’s hook, which is based on a novel by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, kicks in. A moment after his death, Cage wakes up exactly at the same military base where he was dropped off. No one seems to recognize him or know that he was just there. Instead, everything repeats itself, a la Groundhog Day, and soon he’s back on the battlefield, still fiddling with his gun’s sticky safety switch. He gets killed again. Repeat.
The first half of Edge of Tomorrow, which has some ferocious action directed by Doug Liman and aliens that bear an unfortunately resemblance to the tentacled creatures in the Matrix trilogy, is clever and inventive as far as summer blockbusters go. Every day that Cruise goes back into battle, he already knows what’s going to happen, so he’s able to make a little progress each time. He’s helped by the unstoppable Rita (Emily Blunt), a soldier so tough she doesn’t even wear a helmet, who decides to help the poor schlub with his training.
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But then the movie starts getting into trouble. In the hilarious Groundhog Day, all Bill Murray wanted to do was to win the girl. In Edge of Tomorrow, Cruise must save the world, which requires him to become Tom Cruise again and retrieve a blue orb from the bottom of the now-submerged Louvre. That scene unfortunately brought a quick flashback to The Da Vinci Code, something that can instantly ruin any film you happen to be watching.
After such a promising start, Edge of Tomorrow reverts to the usual formula of huge special effects and a race toward a specific target that must be destroyed in order to kill all the aliens at once (why do invading extra-terrestrials always bring with them the single thing that can wipe them out? Couldn’t they have hid it on Jupiter or something?) The structure of Edge of Tomorrow is strangely similar to Oblivion, whose first near-plotless hour was intriguing, and then came the bad guys and ruined everything. I’ll bet you can barely remember that one, and a year from now, Edge of Tomorrow will sound like the title of a new series on Lifetime.
You have to give it up for Cruise, though. Unlike Bruce Willis and his ilk, Cruise gives every movie his all, no matter how preposterous, tearing through large action setpieces with a believable ferocity, and his enthusiasm carries you along. Edge of Tomorrow isn’t good, but it’s also forgivable. Just please stop the Top Gun 2 rumors, Tom. Please.