Alien invasions have long been the scourge of the cinematic planet Earth and those pesky tentacled critters are up to their old tricks again in Doug Liman’s entertaining time-hopping sci-fi actioner Edge of Tomorrow (2014). Based on Japanese writer Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s slender novel All You Need is Kill, the film stars Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt as military hotshots seemingly destined to keep reliving the same doomed battle on a loop. Zipping along at a nifty pace, and shot through with amusing gallows humour, it plays out like an amped-up extra terrestrial Groundhog Dog (1993) which remains enjoyable with the unusual sense of watching someone else playing a big budget, on-rails video game shooter.
The action commences as military PR man Major William Cage (Cruise) travels to London for the initiation of a new global strategy to combat the marauding aliens, known as Mimics. They have conquered mainland Europe, so plans are in place for a final do-or-die offensive. Unexpectedly the desk-trained Cage finds himself on the front line in a mechanical exosuit and hurled into the chaos of battle. He and his compatriots are quickly slaughtered by superior adversaries but when he dies he immediately awakens again twenty-four hours earlier with the memory of how the proceeding day unfolds. Each retread allows him to tweak the performance of the previous one, and he soon learns that celebrated war hero, Rita ‘Full Metal Bitch’ Vrataski (British actress Blunt) knows just what he is going through.
Things start strongly, with opening exchanges between Cage and his superiors (Brendan Gleeson and Bill Paxton) providing diverting build-up to the film’s first (and crowning) action set piece. As the transport carrying the soldiers crashes, they are flung into their own fantastical D-Day landing on a beach arena strewn with bullets and bodies. The daily repetitions which follow are prudently inflected with a leavening comedy that pokes fun at the perpetual demise and the scenes offer enough variety to maintain interest. It is when the end game begins to come into focus that events take a dramatic turn for the blandly generic and the momentum swiftly dissipates. Both leads are in fine fettle, convincing and likable as the reluctant but kick-ass heroes. In fairness, the ‘Cruise missile’ rarely misfires in this kind of role even when the films do – although there’s little more than surface on offer in either case.
In reality, what’s particularly striking about Liman’s high concept sci-fi is the uncanny resemblance to a computer game. The meticulously planning of a route through the anarchic beach battle recalls a gamer’s knowledge of a level they’ve tried countless times to complete. Equally there are visual and narrative nods to the form – where the bioluminescent alien creatures would fit right in – and whiles none of the above results in much depth, it generally works well. Ultimately, Edge of Tomorrow does fluff its final act – and particularly its conclusion – but this is still the most fun you’re likely to have watching someone else play a video game any time soon.