Tales of time travel have long been a movie staple, but ever since “Groundhog Day,” the cyclical, time-loop variety has exploded; the count is currently up to 55 time-loop movies. You know how they work by now.
In 2014’s “Edge of Tomorrow,” round and round and round we go, getting slammed back to reset, waiting for Tom Cruise to sprint through enough time-loop cycles to figure out how to kiss Emily Blunt amid the wreckage, exo-suits, and tarantula aliens.
“Edge of Tomorrow” is big fun. The title’s a soap opera, but “Edge of Tomorrow” did for Emily Blunt what “Hunger Games” did for Jennifer Lawrence in terms of breaking out as an action star, while Mr. Cruise inexorably extended his over-the-top-successful body of work.
“Edge of Tomorrow” debuted on June 6, (in 2014) because that’s summertime, and what happens in America in summertime? Aliens and summer blockbuster movies attack. Humans of the United States have long decided we like to spend the warm-weather months watching aliens try to invade us—but we don’t let them.
Out of the blocks, Tom Cruise’s Maj. Bill Cage is just the sniveling type to allow aliens to invade our United States. Having lost his advertising agency, he’s now a desk-jockeying U.S. Army PR officer; he’s slick as all get-out, and can’t stand the sight of blood. But aliens do invade. Cage wants no part of it.
His job, for a time, is to publicly champion special-forces soldier Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), who’s had success destroying aliens by using one of the military’s newfangled war-fighting gizmos. But then, much to his horror, Maj. Cage gets assigned to combat. Gen. Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) wants to embed Cage at the tip of the spear.
Trying to weasel out of it by threat of blackmail, Cage gets arrested, KO’d, and handcuffed in Heathrow airport, at the mercy of Bill Paxton’s very authentic (and hilarious) army sergeant, and the predatory bad-boy misfit outfit “J-Squad.” They’re a merciless crew.
Before you can say “futuristic mechanized army exo-suit,” and “Gatling-gun outfitted,” J-Squad’s in a chopper armada like the one in “Avatar,” headed for the beaches of Normandy and “Operation Downfall.” Cage can’t figure how to get his guns off safety. Needless to say, J-Squad hazes the heck out of the wimpy Mr. Cage. And boom! The choppers arrive at the landing zone, the crew activates drop-wires, hit the beach, and in minutes—Cage is dead.
And now begins the “Groundhog Day” portion of the movie. Cage wakes up, as if from a nightmare, cuffed, drill-sergeant excoriated, and about to endure J-Squad’s vitriol all over again. How’d he get here? He got splatted on that first outing with “Alpha” alien blood, the DNA of which carries this time-reset capability. It’s sci-fi silly-science, but who cares? This is director Doug Liman of “The Bourne Identity;” Mr. Liman tells a mean story.
So Cage reincarnates in rapid repetition, trying inch-by-inch to change his path in life, until, probably 200 incarnations into it, he runs into Rita in a beach skirmish. She advises him, “Find me when you wake up.”
He does just that. And finds out Rita had also been infected by an “Alpha” alien, which connected her to “the Omega.” Now, the Omega is commonly known in alien movies as “The Queen;” the big insect thingy that spawns all the rest of the little aliens. And an Alpha is therefore sort of like a soldier ant. And in this case, if you get infected by the Alpha, which has a stronger link with the Omega, it (conveniently) triggers a more rapid reincarnation cycle. So that’s what Rita also had.
Then she had a blood transfusion. Then it all went away.
So now Rita and Bill have to find the Omega by using the infection-caused visions that crop up in the dreams, for those who carry it—in this case, Bill. If you carry the DNA, the Omega can sense you—and you, it. Then you can go blast it and save humanity.
What should be done about this state of affairs? First order of business is that Rita needs to whip cowardly Cage into shape. What ensues is a “Rocky”-type get-in-shape montage, with the added fun aspect being that when he falls short, gets injured, or whines, she blasts him, often over (very enjoyable) vehement protestation—back to Heathrow with a 9mm pistol, for a do-over.
The fun thing about time-looper movies, is that you see the incremental change of lessons learned. You can tell when Cage finally becomes a man. Instead of whining in the chopper, he calmly requests, ”Get me three more clips of five-five-six, eight grenades, and an extra battery.”
How’re the aliens? They’re pretty good. Called “Mimics,” they’re sort of a cross between an octopus, the T2 Terminator, and a tumbleweed. They “purr” like tarantulas. They’re mind-bendingly fast.
“Edge of Tomorrow” has four fun things. One, Cruise has played this slick salesman who grows a conscience before, in “Rain Man.” We’ve always underestimated Cruise. He got labeled a talentless pretty-boy early on, and then endured the he’s-weird-because-he-jumps-up-and-down-on-Oprah’s-couch thing, but few have noticed that the reason his movies have done so well for almost 40 years is that he can, in fact, act very well. And he’s funny. I’ll concede that the Scientology thing has got to go.
Two, we already know Emily Blunt is a formidable talent. Here, tanned, blonde, honed, and commanding, she looks every inch the major movie star. This project lead to the impressive “Sicario,” and to the “A Quiet Place” films written and directed by her husband and fellow actor John Krasinski.
Three, you’d think a scene played over and over would get stale. Watching these two tackle the choreography involved in navigating a hallway filled with hostile personnel, probably needing upward of 50 “incarnations” is fascinating. In this regard, “Edge of Tomorrow” is like a treasure hunt with fun surprises.
Four, the romantic tension between the two stars is subdued but very palpable. He’s Cage, but she’s cagey and needs many incarnations to get to know. This is where the parallels to the original “Groundhog Day” are most evident.
The main thing that time-loops get wrong, if you research the esoteric writings of seers and clairvoyants who speak to this issue, is that this concept of time-loops standing in for reincarnations is too facile. The artifice (and source of story-telling enjoyment) is that we learn from our mistakes. Apparently, the reality is more grim; when human reincarnate they get their memories completely erased and have to start from square one and figure everything out all over again. This makes progress infinitely slower than the time-loop concept, and was the main reason monks and wise men and women opted for the difficult path of enlightenment, so they could avoid the reincarnation process altogether.
Entertainment-wise though, you really can’t go wrong with “Edge of Tomorrow.”
‘Edge of Tomorrow’
Director: Doug Liman
Starring: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Brendan Gleeson, Bill Paxton, Jonas Armstrong, Tony Way, Charlotte Riley
Run Time: 1 hour, 53 minutes
Release Date: June 6
4 stars out of 5 for fun, 2 for reincarnation misrepresentation