The twisty, entertaining Tom Cruise vehicle Edge of Tomorrow is Groundhog Day re-imagined as a sci-fi war game. Cruise plays a smarmy military PR guy—a physical coward and not ashamed of it—who sells the public on a European campaign against spidery creatures called “Mimics” and then, after mouthing off to a general (Brendan Gleeson), gets sent kicking and screaming to the front line. After he’s torn to pieces on the battlefield along with the rest of his platoon, he wakes up intact and is sent to the front again… and again… and again. To find out why the world keeps resetting itself, he must track down Emily Blunt as a fabled warrior—the “Angel of Verdun,” the scythe-wielding heroine of a previous Mimic battle—and give a lot more lives for his country. I mean, a lot more lives. Eat your heart out, Nathan Hale.
Briskly directed by Doug Liman, the film is based on a semi-literate Japanese novel called All You Need is Kill that I gave up on after 30 pages. A group of high-paid screenwriters clearly had a hell of a time figuring out how much repetition we can take and where the ellipses should go. One key emotional beat between Cruise and Blunt is referred to but never shown: Was it cut to keep the running time down? It’s probably no great loss, but here and elsewhere the seams show. And in this sort of movie it’s often more fun before we get our bearings and have time to say, “This makes no sense.”
The Mimics move very quickly and have no evident personality: What precisely are they mimicking? It makes me think so fondly of the Sentinels in X-Men: Days of Future Past. Even the alien insects in Starship Troopers have more soul. But if the last part of Edge of Tomorrow isn’t up to what precedes it, it’s certainly rousing and gives you plenty of permutations to play around with in your head on the way home.
After impersonating manly men of action for the last few years, Cruise obviously relishes playing a clumsy ‘fraidy-cat—and relishes even more becoming a lean, mean fighting machine before your (and Emily Blunt’s) eyes. Blunt was recently surprised to be reminded of an old interview in which she said she’d rather do badly paid theater for the rest of her life than accept a role “as a spear carrier in a Tom Cruise movie.” But she’s a hell of a spear carrier. Her skin is copper-colored, her body so taut and wiry that she looks like a member of a higher race. It’s a drag when Cruise takes over most of the heroics, but not enough to kill the rush from watching the universe’s most gorgeous terminator.
Edge of Tomorrow. Directed by Doug Liman, Warner Bros, PG-13.
*This article appears in the June 2, 2014 issue of New York Magazine.