Tom Cruise is on fine form in the high concept sci-fi thriller Edge of Tomorrow, playing a military spin doctor in a war torn near-future, who is caught in a time loop, re-living the same day of mass carnage over and over until the invading alien horde can be defeated.
Cruise plays Major Bill Cage, a military PR man helping sell the notion that a five-year campaign against an invading alien force is finally turning in our favour. After an altercation with his superior, Cage is stripped of his rank and sent to the front line, and with no combat training, is almost immediately killed.
But when Cage awakens back at the base the previous morning, and is forced to live out the invasion and his own brutal death once again, he realises he is trapped in some kind of time loop. He turns to warrior hero Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) for help, who seems to know something about his condition, and persuades Cage to use his newfound ability to improve his skills, learn what he can about their enemy and hopefully help win the war.
Directed by Doug Liman, Edge of Tomorrow plays like a futuristic mash-up of Saving Private Ryan, Aliens and Groundhog Day. Bill Paxton is on hand as a motor-mouthed staff sergeant who whips Cage and his squad of grunts into shape, before they clamber into exoskeleton armoured bodysuits reminiscent of Ripley's loader, and are airdropped into battle. With each trip, Cage gets better, makes it further, lives longer, before he dies and the day resets. He seeks out Rita, who trains him, shares what she knows about the aliens and how they may be the cause of his condition. Before long Cage has become a formidable soldier, but is it enough to defeat such a powerful enemy?
Adapted from Sakurazaka Hiroshi's novel All You Need Is Kill by Jez and John-Henry Butterworth, together with Christopher McQuarrie, Edge of Tomorrow is packed with action and time travel quirks, but also features a lot of comedy. Comparisons to Groundhog Day do not stop at the initial premise, and Cruise in particular gets the chance to draw a lot of humour from dying repeatedly on screen. Liman, who has proved as adept at comedy - with Swingers and Mr & Mrs Smith - as he has with action milks Cage's desperation and the sheer ridiculousness of his situation for plenty of laughs, but also edits the film ruthlessly to ensure the incessant repetition builds momentum rather than becomes boring.
The aliens themselves are intelligent, ferocious and formidable opponents. Operating almost as a hive mind, they are dubbed "Mimics" by the United Defense Force (that's the good guys) for their ability to learn from their enemies and predict their next move. Individually they attack almost like a whirling dervish, a mass of writhing tentacles and gnashing teeth intent on skewering or tearing its enemy to pieces. Their size and number have ensured their overwhelming superiority thus far in the campaign, and Liman effectively renders them on screen.
While Cruise is in his element here, given plenty of opportunity to run, fight, crack wise, and make impassioned speeches to win over his doubters, it is Emily Blunt who makes the real transformation. Rita Vrataski is the hero of the human campaign, the "Angel of Verdun" with more confirmed kills and front line experience than any other soldier in the field. Blunt is lithe, ripped and agile, exuding a confidence and authority both on and off the battlefield. For the first half of the film Rita is Cage's superior in every way, but even as Cage improves and the playing field becomes more balanced, she never downshifts into female sidekick or romantic squeeze.
Liman does give Cruise and Blunt a few quiet moments where their relationship can develop - agonisingly of course, as he must reintroduce himself every day - but they are hard earned and well developed, scattered in amongst the copious bullets and clouds of flying debris. Other than Paxton's attention grabbing turn, only Brendan Gleeson as the UDF Commanding Officer and Noah Taylor's rogue scientist really make an impression - and there's no sign of a rumoured role for Jeremy Piven. For much of the duration, Edge of Tomorrow is a two-hander, and Cruise and Blunt do solid work with it.
Inevitably with this kind of high concept film, the third act is the trickiest, where tough decisions have to be made that risk exposing the logic in your carefully fabricated fiction. However, while recent films such as Wally Pfister's Transcendence weighed itself down by taking its own ridiculous scenario too seriously, Edge of Tomorrow just wants to entertain, and in doing so just about pulls it off. Liman does let his foot off the adrenaline pedal a touch during the final standoff, but that's forgivable after playing the opening two acts at a breakneck pace. We stick with Cage and Rita even as the script begins to hesitate over who lives, who dies and how these puny humans are finally going to win the day. The film's final sign off also bears more than a passing resemblance to the end of Liman's earlier success, The Bourne Identity, but it proves an appropriate acknowledgement to end on. Edge of Tomorrow is easily Liman's best work since Bourne, while Tom Cruise hasn't been this much fun to watch in years.
The film screened in Hong Kong earlier today, in advance of opening internationally on 29 May and in North America on 6 June.