Edge of Tomorrow
If "Groundhog Day" and "The Terminator" had a baby, it would be "Edge of Tomorrow," a riveting sci-fi thriller that towers above every other summer blockbuster released so far this year; a popcorn flick in which big ideas drive the story and the action forward as opposed to the other way around.
Tom Cruise stars as Major William Cage who, despite his high rank in the military, has no experience in combat whatsoever. However, that all changes once his superior officer General Brigham (the terrific Brendan Gleeson) commands Cage to join the first wave of soldiers and film their attack on the western coast of France against an alien race known as "Mimics" who are bent on wiping out the human race through replicating their military strategies. After an attempt to blackmail Brigham goes horribly wrong, Cage is knocked out and wakes up in the training camp of an infantry unit.
Forced to take part in the strike against the Mimics, which turns out to be a brutal ambush, Cage is killed in the midst of the chaos, but not before getting splashed in the blood of a large Mimic which gives him the power to travel back in time to the beginning of the day before the battle is initiated. After reliving through judgment day countless times and failing to save the lives of his fellow officers, he meets up with Rita Vratski (a fantastic Emily Blunt), the poster child of the battle against the alien race who believes in Cage's time-traveling abilities and teams up with him to orchestrate a successful strategy to save their species from total annihilation by winning the war.
It's a fairly goofy premise, and it borrows from countless other films that came before it, but if you accept the set-up and go along for the ride, there's a lot of fun to be had amongst the cleverly executed gimmick of its story.
Few actors working today are bigger movie stars than Cruise, and what works so well about his performance here is that he plays against type for the first half of the film. Sure, Cage does turn into a full-fledged action hero, but to watch Cruise play a terrified soldier who, in the first sequence of apocalyptic warfare walks around in a metallic exoskeleton loaded with guns as if he's a toddler learning to walk, has a twisted charm to it. By the time that Cage has become an expert in combat, it works not just because it plays off what the viewer expects from Cruise, who gives a very solid performance throughout, but also because the film does such a great job of conveying his transformation.
As the tough-as-nails Vratski, Blunt gives an equally strong performance, and it's so refreshing to see such a strong female character that pushes the protagonist forward in a seemingly conventional action film such as this. With her deadpan delivery and her commanding physical presence, Blunt is even more compellingly buff than Cruise in this film. Moreover, while it's clear that these characters begin to feel a sense of attraction toward one another, she's never portrayed as a damsel in distress or a sexualized object; she's a three-dimensional flesh-and-blood character who, in many ways, is even stronger than Cage.
In terms of its direction, Doug Liman of "The Bourne Identity" and "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" frames the action sequences with a gritty sense of danger, as if the viewer is dead center in the midst of the chaos. Few mainstream directors working today know how to film scenes of combat with a handheld camera, but Liman makes his shaky-cam approach coherent and viscerally intense. Even when the heroes are facing off against CGI-aliens, the way Liman orchestrates his scenes of violence feel thrilling due to his incredibly immersive style.
Perhaps what's most surprising of all, however, is the film's dark sense of humor, which is both sharp and unusually fresh for a movie with such a doomsday sci-fi premise. As he did with his incredibly underrated film "Go," Liman knows how to pull the rug out from underneath the viewer in order to score a laugh, and while the time-travel plot tactic does serve a dramatic purpose by the end of the film, the first half-hour uses it as a technique to create some hilariously pitch-black sequences of slapstick in regards to Cage's multiple death scenes. The marketing for this film may make it seem as if it's all one big apocalyptic cloud of doom, but the sneakiness of Liman's comic wit lets the audience know that the film doesn't take everything too seriously, and that there can still be an appropriate pinch of comedy even amidst the most seemingly grim premises of action films.
As an epic hybrid of several iconic films from over the past thirty years, "Edge of Tomorrow" may not the most groundbreaking piece of cinema you'll see in theaters this year, but it's certainly one of the most entertaining, and, like Cage traveling back in time in to save the world, the film takes the viewer on an explosive thrill-ride that they'll be bound to revisit all over again.