Like many big stars, Tom Cruise doesn’t usually die in his movies, so “Edge of Tomorrow” — in which he dies early and often — is a novelty. It’s also a satisfying chunk of sci-fi entertainment, breezily but carefully directed by Doug Liman (“The Bourne Identity,” “Mr. & Mrs. Smith”) to be a cerebral summer spectacle.
Cruise plays Maj. William Cage, an unserious U.S. Army spokesman with no combat experience who finds himself storming the beach with the infantry in a D-Day-like battle against alien invaders. These ferocious creatures, all CGI tendrils and snarls, are called Mimics for their ability to adapt to mankind’s defenses; someone describes them as “perfectly evolved world-conquering organisms,” which is why they’re winning the war so far. But when Cage is killed by one, he wakes up back at the base — and his day starts over, exactly as before. He dies again, he wakes up again, and the cycle repeats itself. It does this over and over. Yes, it’s like that other movie.
Caught in a bizarre time loop and unable to convince anyone it’s happening, Cage teams up with Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), a Special Forces soldier who’s become the Army’s poster child for badassery. She believes Cage about the time loop because the same thing happened to her for a while. (She got better.) Having perfected her own battle skills during her loop experience, she trains Cage to fight, taking advantage of the temporal disruption by having him practice against Mimic simulators that can kill him, then starting over when they do. Cage is like a video game character with unlimited extra lives, and the movie treats the situation with morbid humor, killing him in a variety of unexpected ways. That’s always good for a laugh.
Based on a Japanese book with the awesome (but nonsensical) title “All You Need is Kill,” the screenplay was written by Christopher McQuarrie (“The Usual Suspects”) and brothers Jez and John-Henry Butterworth. It moves swiftly, avoiding the potential problem where a repetitive story might start to feel, well, repetitive. Besides Cruise and Blunt’s irresistibly appealing central performances, the film benefits from colorful turns by Brendan Gleeson and Bill Paxton as military officers, and from Liman’s facility with — but not over-reliance on — rumbling action scenes.
The scenario that leads to Cage being sent to the front lines in the first place is a little hinky, but the only real misstep is in the last act, after the time-loop business has been resolved. Without that hook, it becomes an ordinary alien-invasion story, handled in the usual way. But the film’s final image (this is not a spoiler) is Tom Cruise grinning — and if that’s not a great way to send an audience out of a theater feelin’ good, I don’t know what is.
B+ (1 hr., 53 min.; )