Despite its terribly unimaginative title, Edge of Tomorrow is a surprisingly imaginative summer action movie. I have to admit, I had my doubts going in. After all, it’s been only a little over a year since Tom Cruise’s last razzle-dazzle sci-fi spectacle, Oblivion. And we all know how that one turned out. But give Cruise credit: Not only is he hard-headed enough to get right back on the horse that bucked him, but he manages to show us why he still matters as a movie star — one of the last in a dinosaur species that once lorded over the multiplex like a colossus. Whether you loved or merely tolerated his past few efforts as a leading man, he’s never given less than everything he has. He still cares at a time when caring is dismissed as outdated and square.
Cruise plays Maj. William Cage, a military PR officer whose only knowledge of combat is the kind he’s had with reporters in the spin room. He’s a smooth-talking coward with a smug grin. As the film opens, we’re barraged with a series of TV news bulletins giving us the latest on an apocalyptic invasion of Earth by a slithery race of calamari-looking aliens called Mimics. Cage appears on air to reassure humanity that these new foes can be beaten, pointing to the heroics of Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), a fearless soldier anointed with the nickname ”Angel of Verdun.” But when a general (Brendan Gleeson) wants to embed Cage on the front lines, he unsuccessfully tries to chicken out and gets Tased by an MP. The screen fades to black. When he comes to, he’s being barked at by a Southern-fried sergeant (Bill Paxton) who strong-arms him into joining a suicide mission. He bites it on the battlefield almost immediately. The screen fades to black again. And Cage wakes up back at the beginning. What’s going on here?
Like Groundhog Day or Source Code, Doug Liman’s Edge of Tomorrow is one of those time-loop thrillers where a reluctant hero has to relive the same events over and over, videogame-style, learning a little more each time until he can get it all right (see sidebar). It’s not the most original setup, to be sure, but what makes this particular celluloid Möbius strip bend in on itself with such seamlessness is the cheeky airtight logic of Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, and John-Henry Butterworth’s script — and the stars. While Cruise sells the déjà vu contraption with his usual single-minded determination, it’s Blunt who emerges as the who-knew wild card. We tend to think that stars of Cruise’s magnitude are either unwilling or constitutionally unable to let their female costars share the glow. But Blunt is given the chance to shine as the bare-knuckle badass Rita. And she takes to the role like the second coming of Ripley. She may need Cruise’s time-bending gifts, but he needs her guts and smarts more. In a way, Edge of Tomorrow ends up being a deliciously subversive kind of blockbuster. It’s being sold to the public as a Tom Cruise movie. But deep down, it’s the most feminist summer action flick in years. B+