Many critics are describing the new Tom Cruise sci-fi action film Edge of Tomorrow as "Groundhog Day meets a videogame." And that’s a solid elevator pitch. But it’s also kind of redundant, as any frustrated gamer will tell you: Many video games are already like Groundhog Day, in so far as one is frequently forced to repeat a sequence of events over and over again until one unlocks the magic combination of movements needed to beat a level or a boss or the game itself.
In a sense, Edge of Tomorrow is the most successful "video game film" of all time, despite not actually being adapted from a video game. Major William Cage (Cruise) is stuck in a hellish loop: The public affairs officer has had his rank reduced to private for attempting to desert ahead of a massive battle with alien invaders known as Mimics. He’s forced to fight alongside grunts in a Normandy-style invasion. Sweating buckets, strapped into a strength- and speed-enhancing exoskeleton, and sent into battle with his weapons’ safeties on, Cage is little more than meat for the grinder.
But an odd thing happens: After dying on the battlefield, Cage reawakens at Forward Operating Base Heathrow, still busted down to private, once again getting ready to go back out on the battlefield. No one believes Cage when he tells them the invasion they are embarking on will be a debacle, and no one listens to his warnings even as they witness his ability to predict the future. It’s the video game equivalent of being reborn after dying at the hands of your pixelated enemies: He dies, and starts over again.
Eventually Cage realizes that he will not weasel his way out of battle and instead must use his abilities to memorize how the battle plays out and save from death Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt). Rita’s a hero of the war, referred to as "The Angel of Verdun" and "Full Metal Bitch" for her heroics in a previous battle and for her icy demeanor. When Vrataski gets a good look at Cage in action, she sees something familiar.
Edge of Tomorrow is surprisingly funny, given that it involves a man dying in horrible ways—sometimes from a steely Mimic tentacle, sometimes from a Vrataski bullet in order to initiate a "reset"—over and over again. Director Doug Liman and writer Christopher McQuarrie lean heavily on the audience’s knowledge that nothing bad will actually happen to Cage in order to generate giggles.
Cruise is surrounded by actors with excellent senses of comic timing. Blunt has perfected the world-weary bitchiness that served her so well in The Devil Wears Prada and Looper, and that attitude contrasts nicely with Cruise’s nearly manic persona. Bill Paxton also has a shining turn as a drill sergeant determined to whip the treasonous Cage into shape: His admonitions that "battle is the great redeemer" and that "tomorrow you will be baptized—born again!" serve as the film’s moral core. Cage is in fact redeemed through the trial of combat, through his realization that others are more important than he. In this, Edge of Tomorrow does very much resemble Groundhog Day.
The action sequences leave something to be desired, however. Part of the problem is that we have no real sense of what, exactly, the "Mimics" are. Like the bastard children of The Matrix’s squiddies, they seem to be whirling dervishes of death, tearing soldiers limb from limb as they swarm the battlefield. But other than their impressive ability to kill, we get little sense of how they operate or why they’re even called "Mimics."
It doesn’t help that the quick motions of the Mimics lays waste to the 3D effect, leading to blurring and, for this viewer at least, a modest headache and motion sickness. Avoid seeing Edge of Tomorrow in 3D at all costs. It is unfortunate that studios have tethered 3D and IMAX for films such as this. I imagine the action-packed sequences would play well in the immersive format sans the aggravation of 3D. Then again, I understand why studios don’t want to give audiences the choice to watch a film in IMAX but not in 3D: the rejection of their precious cash-grab would likely be demoralizing.