Review: Tom Cruise is at his best in the wild and witty science-fiction ‘Edge Of Tomorrow’

There are easy comparisons you can make between “Edge Of Tomorrow” and a whole slew of inspirations, from “Starship Troopers” and “Groundhog Day” to Wile E. Coyote and “The Matrix.” The reason the film works is because it throws everything into the blender and comes up with something new, something that has a great lively sense of wit and humor to it, and it takes the time to fully explore its wild premise fully.

“Edge Of Tomorrow” is an original science-fiction film (or as original as based-on-a-novel-and-a-manga can be considered) that delivers an experience that feels like it is well-realized, cleverly constructed, and not just a kick-off to a larger franchise, which means it's a harder sell to an audience, even with Tom Cruise starring in it. Hiroshi Sakurazaka's original “All You Need Is Kill” is different from the film in a number of significant ways, but the film does a great job of taking the central conceit and spinning it into something that manages to play as both summer spectacle and as a canny commentary on video game tropes.

Wait… what? It's true. “Edge Of Tomorrow” is a film that feels like it is about modern gaming as much as it's “about” anything. What does a movie about a guy who gets the ability to wake up 24 hours before he dies, over and over, repeating forever, have to do with video games?

In some ways, this is the perfect video-game movie. I'm not sure anyone adapting an actual video game will ever be able to find a more perfect way to dramatically simulate the experience of playing a game. It's the idea that you can die, then just wake up and do that entire day again, repeating it and learning a little bit more about that day every time. Major Cage (Tom Cruise) is our video game Avatar in the film. It is told entirely from his point of view as he is dropped into a situation that he can barely believe. Cage is the man in charge of all the military's publicity and media relations, which he feels makes him too valuable to be shipped into actual battle. On the day before what the world hopes will be a victory against a bizarre race of alien invaders called Mimics, he crosses paths with General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson), who decides to ship Cage into actual battle.

One of the things that I love about the script by Christopher McQuarrie and Jez Butterworth & John-Henry Butterworth is how much fun they have with that notion of doing something over and over until you get it right. It is a gradual process as shown here, and there's no way a gamer is going to see this film without remembering all those levels that they had to play over and over, learning the patterns and the behavior of the level before they were finally able to beat it. Cage is dropped into battle during what looks like the equivalent of D-Day for this particular war, and it is a massive, amazingly-staged sequence. Cage has to learn how to operate one of the mechanized body armor suits that each soldier is equipped with as he's in the middle of the battle, and just as he seems to get the hang of it, he comes face to face with one of the larger versions of the Mimics.

What should be his last moment alive suddenly becomes the day before, and Cage has no idea what happened to him. The danger in a structure like this is that the audience could get antsy watching the same thing play out over and over, but the film is often very funny about how they play the variations of the different days, and the entire sprawling ensemble cast has fun playing the scenes different ways. What I find most interesting is how anyone who loves watching Tom Cruise is going to enjoy the film, while anyone who hates watching Tom Cruise might find the movie equally enjoyable, but in a different way. After all, there's at least a half-hour of the movie in which we watch him die painfully about 50 times in a row. It's brutally funny stuff, and Cruise makes a great punching bag.

What finally begins the change for the better for him is when he realizes that the soldier who led the only successful attack on the Mimics, Rita (Emily Blunt), understands what is happening to him because it also happened to her. Blunt doesn't get enough credit for the physical transformations she puts herself through in film after film. She is an actor who builds a character in large part through their physicality. She is all polished muscle in this film, and she is able to convey just how much this war has taken a toll on her though her body language and the way she seems to every so often crack just a little bit, revealing the bruised but still beating heart of this warrior. She and Cruise are very good together in the movie, and I appreciated that the film never devolves into making her someone he has to save. She is his equal and then some. Without her, Cage would never evolve into an actual fighter, and when there are hard choices to make, Rita is the one who seems up to the task that Cage can't always face.

Dion Beebe's photography is outstanding here, capturing the chaos of battle but also giving us an excellent sense of geography so that we understand the changes made from scene to scene. I think Doug Liman's work here is the most confident of his career, and I'd argue that this is his best overall movie on every level. I'll always have a soft spot for “Swingers” and its low-fi scrappy charms, but Liman pulls together this gigantic project in a way that makes it feel organic and simple and direct. It's outstanding work, and when we talk about wanting to see films that deliver that great summer movie kick that are also built to last, “Edge Of Tomorrow” is a great example of what we're asking Hollywood to make. I have a few questions/issues about the actual resolution of the film and how the mechanic of the time jump works there, but it's not such a big issue that it pulls me out of my general overall enjoyment of the film. For the vast majority of its running time, “Edge Of Tomorrow” is smart and stylish fun, and science-fiction fans of any stripe should jump on this one. Tell Hollywood you want more of this, because believe me, they are watching closely. If a movie this good can't open without a pre-sold brand name on it, then what hope do we have for original thought on a giant scale?

“Edge Of Tomorrow” is in theaters June 6.