The best videogame movie not based on a video game. That was my immediate reaction after watching Edge of Tomorrow, the latest Tom Cruise action sci-fi adventure that manages to recycle several elements of themes that have been done before (war battles, alien invasions, the Groundhog Day-esque reliving the same day over again), into a surprisingly enjoyable exercise in spite of the obvious gimmicky touches at work.
The film's based on a novel called All You Need is Kill, by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, and stars the eternal Tom Cruise as Maj. William Cage, a media relations officer in a future where Earth has been invaded by aliens and we're at constant war with these big, purplish, Matrixy-looking, rubber "mimics" that have spider-like poles for arms and kill you almost instantly, as far as I can tell. Cage is a cowardly phony who's never been in battle himself, so when General Brendan Gleeson orders him into the field with the "J-Squad" led by an amusingly hammy Bill Paxton (is there any other kind?), he does everything he can to get out of it, but fails and falls into the massive D-Day invasion (we're actually invading France again, in a nod to WWII I suppose) completely unprepared and at a loss for what to do. Since he's strapped into a hulking mechanical armor suit that's got some automatic weapons attached, he does however manage to kill at least one mimic, almost by accident, while the slaughter's taking place. This one though, was an "Alpha," which he finds out is a special kind of alien that transferred its powers to him when it died, which means every time Cage himself dies, the day resets and he has to live it all over again.
Okay so it's a familiar premise, but one that you can usually get a lot of mileage out of if done right, which it more or less is here. Tom Cruise harnesses a playful, bewildered sense of humor and it's amusing to see him purposely figuring out ways to die when he knows he has to start over, but even the terms "reset" and "start over" immediately bring to mind battle videogames where you have to keep figuring out the steps in order to get to the next level. Cage must do exactly that, and he needs the help of the war's most decorated soldier, Rita Vertasky (Emily Blunt, who gets to play a pretty kickass female action heroine), who once was doused in the Alpha's blood herself and relived her glory on the battlefield until she got it right. Rita believes his story and trains him until he becomes the indefatigable Tom Cruise hero we all know and love, and together the two keep going after the Omega, which is kind of like the Mother alien who will shut down all the little babies once it's put out of commission. Or in other words, the boss level, right?
The humor works, there's a nice chemistry between Cruise and Blunt (even if it's slightly annoying that at 53 years old, the male movie star can only be partnered with a woman 20 years his junior and never let's say, someone his own age), and the action is relentless and pounds you into submission, even if I wouldn't say there's a whole lot of stunts or special effects in this that you haven't actually seen before. Certainly battling invading aliens at this point is something that happens in at least one action film every summer, but Doug Liman helms a fast-paced, slick and most importantly, fun thrill ride that gives you just what you want from these kinds of movies. And the gimmick and videogame aspect to it shows how you can actually make that kind of material work, as long as you have the right star in the lead, one that audiences will follow anywhere. It is kind of cool to see Cruise evolve from shallow jerk to competent soldier, and it's believable that anyone might do that themselves once you take away the factor that prevents people from constantly living on the edge- the fear of death. Edge of Tomorrow is all kinetic action, humor and thrills by the minute- and also just clever enough to give it a solid pass as a worthy entry in this year's summer blockbuster canon.