Watching someone play a level in a video game that they know backwards and forwards can be quite the impressive sight, as the player knows when and where every enemy will appear, exactly what’s coming up next, and how to blast through without getting hit once. It’s a skill of familiarity that only comes from repeating a level over and over, ad nauseam, until it’s innately second-nature. Edge of Tomorrow operates on the same basis, with its action sequences ultimately having the same awe-inspiring effect.
Tom Cruise plays Maj. William Cage, a military spokesperson who finds himself sent into battle in an escalating war against a race of aliens referred to as “Mimics.” Strapped into a metallic exoskeleton straight out of a James Cameron movie, Cage is airdropped onto a beach and dead within minutes.
The next moment, Cage is alive again and finds himself reliving the same day. He has no idea why, but when he saves the life of soldier/face-of-the-war Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), she recognizes the phenomenon Cage is experiencing, as she went through it before: in his first death, Cage hijacked the Mimics’ ability to reset time. As long as Cage dies every day, he will re-awaken earlier that morning, with all the knowledge and experience he’s gained already. Vrataski instructs Cage to come back and meet with her every morning, and she’ll train with him until they can take down the Mimics.
Edge of Tomorrow, despite its dumbly generic title, is quite a clever movie. Blending war movie tropes with the fertilely creative idea of repeating the same day, the screenplay has more originality than most other action movies today. Until a turn in the plot between the second and third acts robs the story of its hook, the screenplay is really smart in how it builds upon itself, with scenes becoming funnier the more Cage lives through them and knows what to anticipate.
Cruise, one of the go-to masters when it comes to modern action, is in fine form as Cage. He does nothing different here than he did in Minority Report, War of the Worlds, or the Mission: Impossible series, but he’s in comfortable territory and is one of the best at roles like this, bringing a charming likeability and invigorating intensity to his character.
Emily Blunt, as an iconic war heroine and the only person who understands what Cage is going through, is every bit Cruise’s equal. Her performance turns Vrataski into a strong fighter as formidable as Alien’s Ellen Ripley or Kill Bill’s The Bride.
While, on one level, Edge of Tomorrow owes a debt of gratitude to Groundhog Day (crossed with the bombastic alien war scenes of Starship Troopers), it also has a lot in common with the 2011’s brilliant Source Code, about a soldier reliving the same eight minutes until he can stop a bombing. Edge of Tomorrow doesn’t go quite as far with its premise, but still makes excellent use of it.
As Cage re-fights the central, beach-storming battle, he gets further and further, memorizing where each attack comes from and learning the pattern to follow to beat the enemy. From a moviemaking standpoint, it smartly appeals to audience members who spend their spare time replaying the same level in a video game over and over until they can speed through, killing every enemy before they can even attack, and memorizing every trap to avoid.
The final stretch of Edge of Tomorrow loses a little of its spark, compared to the rest of the movie. To be fair, though, you can only play a level so many times before a bit of the thrill fades.