You have to hand it to Tom Cruise — the guy’s not lazy. Whether he’s dangling from the Khalifa Tower in Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol or riding a motorcycle through the Running of the Bulls in Knight and Day, the 51-year-old actor always gives his all. Cruise might not be as popular as he used to be — and unjustly so — but his infectious enthusiasm and unrivaled work ethic have only increased over time. But is the still-charismatic Cruise enough to make the sci-fi adventure Edge of Tomorrow a great movie?
For at least a while, the answer is yes. Edge of Tomorrow depicts a near-future where squid-like alien invaders called mimics have laid siege to most of Europe. When a cowardly military PR rep (Cruise) runs afoul of a spiteful general (Brendan Gleeson), he’s demoted and forced to join the frontline of a D-Day-style invasion designed to turn the tide of the war. The untested and unprepared Cruise quickly perishes in the battle — only to wake up 24 hours earlier. As he soon learns, he has gained the mimics’ ability to “reset the day” whenever he dies, learning from his mistakes each time. Along with a celebrated war hero (Emily Blunt), Cruise sets out to use his new ability to cripple the enemy’s defenses for good.
Any movie that crosses Groundhog Day with Starship Troopers is bound to be a good time, and Edge of Tomorrow serves up thrills and comedy in equal measure. The constantly dying Cruise handles the transition from quivering coward to war-weary badass with aplomb, and Blunt builds on the stoic badassery she touched upon in 2012’s Looper. A scenery-chewing Bill Paxton adds to the fun as the bloviating master sergeant in charge of making Cruise’s life hell.
Director Doug Liman (a long way from his Swingers days) handles his characters’ interactions with a steady hand (though the same can’t be said of the always-shaky camera). He also makes good use of the movie’s repeated scenes, bringing variety and humor to each iteration. Along with editor James Herbert, Liman builds hypnotic rhythms into what in lesser hands could have been a slog to watch.
Unfortunately, Liman doesn’t fare as well with the film’s action sequences. The pivotal beach invasion apes Saving Private Ryan‘s quick cutting and twitchy camera work, but mixed with some far-from-convincing CGI, it’s a fatal combination. With their thrashing tentacles and cartoonish lack of definition, the mimics resemble the sentinels from The Matrix both in appearance and in their ’90s-era effects quality. The creatures never believably occupy the same space as the actors, and scenes that should be enthralling become as interesting as watching somebody else play a video game.
One standout effect Edge of Tomorrow gets right is the soldiers’ armored battle “jackets.” Borrowing freely from Aliens‘ Power Loader, the suits are lots of fun to behold. Cruise in particular makes the most out of them, leaping and running around with the athletic prowess we’ve come to expect from the actor. The CGI for the mimics might look phony, but you’d be hard-pressed to notice whenever the film cuts from real-life jackets to computer-generated ones.
Of course, watching armored suits pummel aliens is only interesting if you care about the people inside them. Cruise and Blunt have an entertaining chemistry, and there’s a real sadness to Cruise’s growing affection for someone he’s seen die hundreds of times. The film raises the stakes with a third-act development that leaves Cruise without his ability to reset, which finally makes him — and, by extension, his fellow soldiers — mortal. Yet Edge of Tomorrow squanders that development with a last-minute cheat that negates the characters’ sacrifices and forces a mainstream-friendly happy ending.
It’s a shame because, up until then, Edge of Tomorrow is a fun ride with glimmers of deeper potential. If Liman and company had been willing to steer the film into riskier territory, it could have become a gritty cult classic. Instead, what we’re left with is something that tries to please both sci-fi enthusiasts and casual moviegoers but falls consistently short of excellence. If only the filmmakers could go back and change things.
Edge of Tomorrow opens nationwide on Friday, June 6.