With “Edge of Tomorrow,” director Doug Liman (“Mr. & Mrs. Smith”) entertains us as thoroughly as possible right now, a refreshing change in a cinematic world where three books become four movies and franchise reboots come along with the frequency of the Olympics.
Tom Cruise plays Major William Cage, a smiley PR flack for the United Defense Fund, a worldwide military group battling a deadly alien scourge called Mimics: metallic-looking, beefier versions of what we saw in “Alien.” The UDF’s leader (Brendan Gleeson) recruits Cage to join the front lines of a crucial battle as a publicity stunt so TV viewers can witness courage in action.
Cage refuses. Nobody cares. A woefully unprepared Cage is thrown into battle — he can’t even find the safety on his mechanized solider suit — and gets killed. As soon as his face disintegrates under a layer of alien bile, he jolts awake. It’s the same day. Same people, same dialogue, same slaughter where the aliens anticipate every move. And it keeps happening.
During his daily reincarnation, Cage grows more competent on the battlefield, eventually meeting UDF poster girl Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), who urges him to find her when he wakes up. After several botched attempts, he does, and his predicament becomes clear. Cage somehow absorbed the enemy’s ability to relive each day, which is why it keeps slaughtering the humans and why Cage has to keep dying to save the human race.
Vrataski, who meets Cage for the first time each day, trains him to become a killing machine. As they keep joining forces to beat the bad guys, Cage and Vrataski’s rapport grows. But it is not the movie’s focal point. One of Liman’s great touches is how Cage falls for Rita on her terms, even after she’s repeatedly ended his life so he can start anew. After all, her future is doomed until he becomes her equal.
That lack of guile is refreshing — and consistent. At the heart of “Edge of Tomorrow’s” story is that heroes are made. Cage’s mechanized suit is useless if his battle instincts aren’t honed. We care and laugh — the movie’s funniest moments come when Cage tries to explain his way out of his predicament — and pay attention because like another action-packed parable, “Gravity,” we recognize that certain human qualities must endure.
The leads’ performances are crucial to supporting that idea. Despite the personal dings, Cruise’s charisma has endured. Like Jack Nicholson, he can adjust it to play the beleaguered everyman, hero, or aggressor. Cruise plays all three in “Edge of Tomorrow,” highlighting his malleable soul. Blunt is a wonderful actress when she’s angry, and Liman (wisely) leaves her alone.
Most importantly, “Edge of Tomorrow” stands on its own; the attributes that get overlooked when the budget is spent on flash and splash get their due. The plot is twisty, but not convoluted or contradictory. Characters get as much attention as the action and nightmarish aliens. “Edge of Tomorrow” represents the well-rounded, agenda-less fun we once got regularly from action blockbusters, a time when style and substance weren’t so easily divided by avarice. I guess aliens aren’t the only threat we face.
Rating: W W W V
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