“Edge of Tomorrow” is that rare science fiction movie that effectively combines a brainy, science-y idea and slam-bang, summer-popcorn action.
It’s a nice alternative to big, brain-dead explosion movies merely set in outer space or in the future, or — on the other hand — small, brilliant hard sells, such as this year’s “Under the Skin.”
Perhaps it’s no surprise that stars Tom Cruise (who was in “Minority Report”) and Emily Blunt (who appeared in “Looper”) are veterans of this happy hybrid. “Edge of Tomorrow” is a complete and great triple feature.
In it, aliens have attacked Earth, using time travel to understand exactly when, where and how battles will play out.
Major William Cage (Cruise), a craven public relations guy with no combat experience, is sent into battle on a French beachfront. It’s a slaughter.
Cage unexpectedly wakes up a day earlier, before the battle begins. He’s stuck in a time loop, much like the one in “Groundhog Day,” and enters the fray again and again.
Another soldier, Rita Vrataski (Blunt), a hero from a previous battle, sees Cage beginning to anticipate the aliens’ moves and understands what’s going on. The same thing happened to her, and was the secret of her great victory.
Unlike so many other male-oriented movies of this type, Blunt has an equal role here, and it’s every bit as strong and interesting as Cruise’s. Together they use Cage’s power of trial-and-error to try and stop the battle from its source, before it ever begins. The catch is that Cage must actually die in order to reset each day.
This scenario comes from a novel by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, and is brought to the screen by Oscar-winning writer Christopher McQuarrie (“The Usual Suspects”), playwright Jez Butterworth and his brother John-Henry.
Armchair scientists will likely find holes in the chronology, but the presentation is designed to march on, regardless.
The man in charge, director Doug Liman, is a solid, sturdy workhorse capable of assembling clean, smart and brisk entertainments like “Swingers” and “The Bourne Identity,” with no camera-shaking or fuss.
Though “Edge of Tomorrow” includes plenty of action, scenes of military bravado are played for irony, given that the outcome of the glorious battle is known.
Appealing emphasis is on playful, funny character-related troubles of time travel, such as Cage introducing himself to the cranky Vrataski every day, or trying to protect her from her own bull-headed courage.
Indeed, in a summer season filled with its own time loops (i.e. sequels, reboots, etc.), “Edge of Tomorrow” beats the clock.
Edge of Tomorrow ★★★½
Starring Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton, Brendan Gleeson
Written by Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth
Directed by Doug Liman
Running time 1 hour, 53 minutes