A great many influences were drawn upon by Doug Liman in crafting Edge of Tomorrow, which is very loosely based on Hiroshi Sakurazaka's popular light novel, All You Need is Kill. More than just the simple "sci-fi Groundhog Day" it's most frequently described as, the satirical edginess will have fans of Paul Verhoeven's Starship Troopers chuckling, while the hulking battle suits are pulled straight from Japanese anime, and there are perhaps even hints of Deja Vu in there for good measure. But for all the different styles thrown in to make for an exciting and surprisingly light-footed action epic, the steadying influence is Tom Cruise, who at the age of 51 seems to be getting his action hero groove back.
Like the time loop-stuck hero he plays in Edge of Tomorrow, Cruise keeps going to the sci-fi well over and over, fighting to try and replicate his War of the Worlds success. And with a touch of slick humor, Doug Liman's energetic direction, and a hint of the bizarre, this is easily Cruise's best crack at the genre, despite a third act fail that threatens to kibosh the whole thing. Cruise plays Major William Cage, a shady pro war spinmeister happy to stay far in the background while others die for the cause. The world is under attack by strange, liquid metal-ish creatures known as Mimics, and to combat them the military has come up with weaponized battle suits capable of turning an untrained soldier into a hero. The face of this PR campaign is the "Angel of Verdun" Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), who turned the tide of battle when all seemed lost. Posters of her are literally everywhere, inspiring others to fight for the cause.
Well, inspiring everybody but Cage who refuses an order by his commander (Brendan Gleeson) to embed with the front lines to cover an all-or-nothing strike against the Mimics. Cowardly noting that he can't even stand the sight of blood from a paper cut, Cage tries to blackmail his way out of it, only to be knocked out, arrested, removed of rank, and shipped out to camp to prepare for battle. There he's screamed at by an overzealous war-loving drill sergeant (Bill Paxton), tossed into a misfit outfit, and dropped into a firefight that echoes the beach storming of Normandy. Flopping around in a bulky metal suit, Cage still manages to accidentally kill one of the larger Mimics, only to have its acidic blood doused all over him, and in that moment of death he wakes up at camp as if nothing happened.
From here the film follows the Groundhog Day/Source Code route of Cage figuring out the parameters of his predicament. That means lots of dying and waking up, greeted with a booming "On your feet, maggot!", and to Liman's credit he manages to keep these scenes mostly free of repetition for the audience. That involves lots of quick cuts, presenting some moments from differing perspectives, and finding humor in the absurdity of Cage's situation. Here's the least likely soldier ever forced into a Hellish scenario in which he must be a soldier forever. But everything changes when he encounters Rita on the field and her words, “Find me when you wake up", hint that he's not alone in this. He and Rita were much the same once, and with her help Cage must figure out a way to stop the Mimics and break the cycle once and for all.
Liman keeps the pace moving briskly, even at times when it should come to a screeching halt like in Cage's multiple training sequences. But these carry weight because of the importance heaped upon them; if Cage can't get his act together the whole world is doomed. And so it kind of makes you angry at him when he stops training to hit on Rita (points for trying, though), or just can't seem to get his timing straight. Of course, over time he begins to take things more seriously and we see the crushing war fatigue plastered all over his face. We've seen Cruise play this sort of character before, the free-wheeling guy burdened with impossible responsibility, and he does it ease. Frustration comes with Rita basically being reduced to Cage's sidekick when she starts off as such a badass. Thankfully she never quite becomes a "damsel in distress" and Blunt is capable of showing more layers to Rita than I think were intended. She's shown to be more than capable of holding her own and is a rare case of a strong female heroine in a genre dominated by guys. But let's not mistake, this is Cruise's film and Cage makes for an interesting enough character to root for. His initial sliminess marks him as more than just a standard-issue hero, one who would rather be on the sidelines than the front lines. His transformation into hardened soldier is, despite being cut short by necessary montage, rendered in a believable way.
While Cruise and Blunt may be perfect casting on the screen and to the studio bean counters hoping for a big box office, the compromise, or what I call "The Cruise Compromise" comes on the creative end. There's no real way to sugarcoat this: the ending is a complete disaster. It's the kind of lazy, go-home-happy Hollywood ending you might imagine a bunch of studio execs hammering out while "doing lunch". A more poignant conclusion was clearly intended, sacrificed on the altar of popcorn entertainment and in the process robbing the film of any chance to be memorable. It's the one lapse of intelligence for a film that is far smarter than the summer generally requires, and is worth reliving for a second time.