The newest action picture from director Doug Liman threatens to be completely fresh and irreverent, until it realizes Tom Cruise is the star and that its premise is borrowed from Groundhog Dog with a science-fiction twist.
Based on All You Need is Kill, a novel by Hiroshi Sakurazaka published in 2004, and a screenplay credited to Christopher McQuarrie (Cruise’s Jack Reacher), Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth, Edge of Tomorrow posits that in the near future Earth has been invaded by aliens from space known as Mimics, who resemble giant, speedy circular mops yet are soundly defeating mankind’s military forces, combined into the United Defense Force. Military spokesperson Cage (Cruise) sounds good on television, but his cowardly, selfish nature is revealed in a conversation with General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson), who orders him to “sell the military” as they make a last-ditch effort to repel the invaders on a beach in France. It’s a battle that is sure to cost hundreds of thousands of lives, and Cage firmly resists the possibility of being one of them.
He ends up in the battle anyway, and — no spoiler — is killed within the first five minutes. Then he wakes up and repeats the previous 12 hours. Then he wakes up and repeats the previous 12 hours. Then he wakes up and repeats the previous 12 hours. Then he —
You get the idea. As Cage desperately tries to figure out what’s going on, he comes into contact with Rita (Emily Blunt), a war hero, and she provides the key to the rest of the story.
The early sequences zig and zag with vim and vigor. Placing Cruise into the body of an uncertain and unlikable character who is only looking out for himself infuses the story with energy stolen from his younger years, when he could embody selfish jerks with elan and a measure of callow soulfulness. (I’m thinking especially of Risky Business, Top Gun, and The Color of Money.) Listening as he endeavors to talk his way out of the clutches of the single-minded Master Sergeant Farell (a delightfully bluff and Southern-twangy Bill Paxton) unearths the actor’s most patently insincere sincerity; it’s easy to see why he would be an effective spokesperson for the military.
All too quickly, the zippy dialogue recedes into the background (resurfacing only occasionally), and the lumbering mechanics of the plot take center stage, calling for multiple extended action sequences that are staged and filmed in an anonymous fashion by director Liman and cinematographer Dion Beebe. A dozen years ago, Beebe collaborated with director Kurt Wimmer to make the stylish and fluid Equilibrium; that same year, Liman made his first action flick, The Bourne Identity, which prized camera movement above visual clarity. Liman’s vision prevails here, of course, and so the result is a series of action scenes that are well-nigh incomprehensible.
When the action pauses, Cruise morphs quickly back into the conventional action hero he was born to play, adapting to his circumstances in rapid order and becoming a supremely efficient and selfless soldier. Naturally, that can be attributed to the nature of the time-travel loop in which he’s trapped, but it’s also a symptom of the Traditional Hollywood Protagonist Trope, his flaws erased from memory as he is transformed long before the climactic third act.
As long as Cruise’s character is imperfect and weak, the movie sings true. Once he becomes ‘all that he can be,’ to paraphrase a one-time slogan of the U.S. Army, the inevitability of the plot twists and turns become all too obvious and predictable. Without a recognizable and relatable character at the center, the movie sags, only perking up at odd times that are unable to halt the slide into mediocrity.
Edge of Tomorrow is a thriller that starts strong and loses its potency throughout its running time, like a carbonated beverage left open in the summer heat and gone flat.
The film opens in theaters wide across Dallas on Friday, June 6.