The bar for science-fiction movies is set very low these days. The Star Trek reboot was fun at first ("Look at all those actors who resemble the guys from 30 years ago!") but Into Darkness couldn't disguise the fact that it was a nonsensical Khan-driven rehash. The Star Wars sequels are still years away, and no one seemed to give a shit about Vin Diesel's Riddick trilogy. So when Tom Cruise and Doug Liman come together to creative an intriguing, inventive sci-fi blockbuster, it's something worth celebrating. From the first preview until perhaps a week before its release, Edge of Tomorrow looked like an easy-to-mock disaster from the megalomaniacal star of Oblivion and the ho-hum director of Jumper. But surprise! It's actually a gem. Full disclosure: I'm a big Tom Cruise fan. There are a few clunkers in that massive filmography (Knight and Day, I'm looking in your direction) but the hits are ample: The Last Samurai, Magnolia, Collateral, Minority Report, Mission: Impossible III. He's not always perfect for a role, but when he hits that sweet spot it's a work of frantic brilliance. Edge of Tomorrow fits him like a glove. The pitch was probably "Groundhog Day with aliens and robo-suits," and that ends up being fairly accurate. An race of mechanized aliens have invaded Earth and are picking apart European countries one by one; it's up to an army of humans outfitted in weaponized exoskeletons to save the day with a (heh) massive invasion of Normandy. What we don't know, of course, is that the aliens have some sort of time-altering reset ability; they're always one step ahead of humanity. Fortunately, this power is gifted to Cruise's PR whiz-turned-grunt William Cage, who can only trigger it by dying. Once a bullet enters his brain or an alien tears him apart (it's PG-13, so despite numerous occurrences we don't see much of either scenario) he respawns like the Master Chief in Halo. The story is ludicrous, but it's also largely irrelevant. Edge of Tomorrow is all about the conceit; like Bill Murray before him, Cruise grows wearier and wearier as the same day loops for what seems like eternity. Unlike Murray, he never reverts to suicide, but he is surrounded by death (and ultimately killed) every time he's forced to redo invasion day. Lots of time is smartly spent on Cage's fruitless efforts to save soldiers destined to be crushed or blown to pieces; even when he's trained himself to fight, there's still only so much one man can do. It's the perfect device for an action movie: not only is there drama (and sometimes even comedy) in reliving the same tense moments over and over again, we're also granted a shockingly logical explanation as to why this particular hero is so adept at combating the enemy: he's had thousands of opportunities to memorize their every move. There's no better way to learn the patterns of proclivities of alien attackers than to be brutally killed by them on countless occasions. It also makes excellent use of Tom Cruise's stature, which so many other movies have tried desperately to avoid addressing. In early scenes, when Cage is painfully green and absolutely terrified, we've given numerous glimpses of him bumbling around in his oversized mechanized suit, looking far too small for infantry duty, let alone saving the world. But Tom Cruise adapts; he grows stronger. Thanks to the tutelage of Emily Blunt's Rita, who is quite bad-ass as the decorated war hero who enjoyed the same power mere months ago, Cage gains the mental strength and and military prowess needed to make it through that particular day. Somehow, Liman and company make a joke out of a repeated sequence where Rita blows an injured Cage's head off so they can "restart" and begin training anew. Kudos to any director who draws you into his cinematic world enough to make aggressive, repeated murder funny. Unfortunately, Edge
of Tomorrowdoesn't know when to say when; there's a logical moment at the 90-minute mark where it could wrap up nicely, but instead 20 additional minutes are tacked on and we're force-fed the unnecessary reintroduction of some minor characters and a feel-good finale. Call me crazy, but a movie where an untested soldier is thrust into death-heavy combat for thousands and thousands of days shouldn't end with the good life falling into place for everyone involved. But that didn't ruin my enjoyment in the least; it only keeps Edge of Tomorrow from being a true sci-fi masterpiece. Knowingly or unknowingly, Doug Liman has crafted both the perfect use for 52-year-old Tom Cruise and the best current example of a movie aping video game style. It's nice to be surprised sometimes.