I’m once again going with the alternative title here, Doug Liman’s sci-fi epic was released as Edge of Tomorrow, which doesn’t really tell much of the story. Landing somehow as a mix between Groundhog Day’s time-travel philosophising and the scarifying excitements of James Cameron’s Aliens, this is a model of how effective a summer blockbuster can be; the only big surprise is that audiences didn’t take to this movie in the way they’ve embraced many less accomplished films.
Marketing man Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) finds that his advertising firm goes to the wall when an alien outbreak changes the world; it’s fun to think of this as an off-brand sequel to Jerry Maguire. Cage is co-opted to travel with the first wave of attack as allied forces attempt to take back Europe from the marauding hordes; it’s a death sentence, and Cage is killed within 5 minutes. But he’s quickly re-spawned, like a character in a video game, yet the source material, All You Need Is Kill was actually based on a novel by Hiroshi Sakurazaka. Cage comes to realise that he’s doomed to live the same day over and over again, but his contact with yesterday’s hero, the Angel of Verdun, Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) expands his thinking. Rather than accept his fate, Cage wriggles on the hook, training, making contacts, exploring the world-gone-mad that traps him like a fly in the bottle. And eventually, he finds his way off the deadly beach on which he seemed doomed to eternal death, and joins Rita in finding a way to stop the alien conquest.
Liman is one of the best action directors out there, kicking off the Jason Bourne franchise as well as helming Mr and Mrs Smith, a star vehicle that was made for Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. That film features a memorable quiet scene amongst the carnage, where Pitt offers Jolie a broken glass of orange juice as respite between kick-ass fights. It’s a nice moment that suggests a higher metaphorical function for the whole film, with assassin rivalry offering a parallel for domestic relationships. Here, Liman manages to repeat a similar trick; Cage and Vrataski learn from each other, and face existential choices as they try and figure how how they might both survive. Cruise and Blunt are big stars, and get to do big star things here; wearing mech-suits, killing aliens, but also suggesting a growing, developing relationship. Cruise does particularly well to suggest how a shallow, cowardly character might come to better himself, and they two actors give the film much-needed heart and soul. Bill Paxton and Brendan Gleeson also register in small but telling roles.
Live. Die. Repeat. Plays like a video game, allowing multiple attempts at every hurdle. Only the final big-boss level disappoints; shorn of their powers, the final confrontation between man and alien is fairly rote compared to the rest of a highly engaging movie. A sequel as been mooted, but it’ll be hard to top the multi-level action offered by this superior summer shoot-‘em up.