“Edge of Tomorrow,” the new Tom Cruise action movie, is a lot of fun to watch. Its no classic, and it doesn’t even pretend to be trail-blazing. But it moves with efficiency for which director Doug Liman (who directed both “The Bourne Identity” and “Jumpers”) deserves substantial credit.
While the premise has to remind viewers of the rightly beloved “Groundhog Day,” “Edge” has its own sense of humor, and most of the laughs come from Liman’s spare story-telling style. He assumes we will follow what is happening and so he doesn’t waste a lot of screen time explaining. The results are exhilarating—a sci fi movie that doesn’t bother to explain itself!
The movie opened on D-Day. So I think we can assume that its makers don’t mind if we see that this idea or that came from some other source. Like “Groundhog Day,” “Edge of Tomorrow” is about how we learn and improve. Like the historic events of D-Day, it is about how planning and courage can win out.
Not that the central character, Cage (Cruise), is courageous, at least at the beginning of the film. He’s a bankrupt advertising man who has gone to work for the Army, trying to sell the public on the need for the war against large but spidery aliens who have gained control of continental Europe. In fact, Cage doesn’t intend to risk anything. But a general in England orders him to travel with forces landing in France to open a second front against the space invaders.
We follow along as the unprepared Cage is dropped from one of a wave of large helicopter transports onto a Normandy battlefield. He survives long enough to see the war’s heroine, a combat soldier named Rita (and played by Emily Blunt) be killed by the enemy. And then, almost by mistake, Cage kills a specific kind of alien before he is himself killed.
Second verse, same as the first. He immediately reawakens back twenty-four hours before, in England, hearing the same words from the general (Brendan Gleeson), the Sergeant (Bill Paxton), and the members of the squad. He again drops into the fighting, but he remembers some of what happened before so that he is able to save Rita from the attack that killed her first time through.
She recognizes what has happened to him—the time loop thing—and asks him to find her when he again awakens. But back in England, she doesn’t remember their earlier meetings. Once he describes his time loop, she takes him to see a pal of hers, a scientist who has an explanation for what is happening. But, good news, the explanation is very brief, and again we are back on the battlefield.
Every time around, Cage learns more that will help him get himself and Rita deeper into the action. Then he has a vision, a vision caused by the vulnerable central alien’s attempt to communicate with the spider Cage killed in his first battle foray. Rita and our hero work up a plan to take them to the site he has seen in his imagination. There they intend to kill the central alien.
The difficult concept in all of this for the viewer is that Cage can’t be allowed to receive a transfusion, as this will end his ability to loop back in time. So any time he is injured, Rita shoots him dead. And they begin their struggle all over again.
Liman never repeats too much of previous action. The plot, most of which comes apparently from a novel by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, contains an addition wrinkle for the last reel, and this keeps the movie from seeming too simple.
But it really is pretty simple, and that is one secret of its success. The battle scenes concentrate on the experiences of just a few soldiers, and the scenes are brief and brisk. No need for those ugly computer-generated panoramas here. And as we go, the characters actually learn and grow. Cage becomes a better person as the film goes along. And then there’s a deft little denouement, with our hero again approaching our heroine and again not being recognized.
The only business here that one might quibble about is what Liman decides to make clearly visual and what not. Would it take too much time to show us the different kinds of aliens? One wonders, given the skill with which the director displays those grenade pins in “Edge of Tomorrow’s” most memorable image.