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'Edge of Tomorrow' is Witty, Manic Entertainment
Don’t let the somber ads fool you, Tom Cruise’s latest is a breath of fresh air.

A lot of hay has been made over the fact that video game adaptations on the big screen have been terrible moviegoing experiences. The reasoning behind that is pretty clear for anybody who plays video games even as a dilettante – video games prize the experiential and downplay narrative elegance, opting for functionality. Some of the most-lauded video game narratives would not pass muster as a big screen tale, so it comes as no surprise that the first film to truly capture the experience of video games would have absolutely nothing to do at all with a pre-existing video game property. Based on the Japanese sci-fi novel All You Need is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, Edge of Tomorrow, with its Starship-Troopers-by-way-of-Groundhog Day storyline, captures the agony and ecstasy of gaming in a way that no movie has before.

This can be traced back to the film’s premise – that Tom Cruise’s Major William Cage continues reliving the fateful day that humanity waged a last-ditch attempt at combating an alien invasion by storming the shores of France (subtle this film is not), only to suffer a gruesome death. He then attempts to use the knowledge gleaned during each previous death day to transform his technique during the next. That’s Gaming 101 right there, taking each previous life as an opportunity to afford the next a few extra seconds before some altogether new circumstance (usually of the loud and explodey variety) cuts you short yet again.

The film deals with many of the facets that such a battle-hardened purgatory can lead to, with Cage’s frustration mounting as he tries to pitch the perfect game (stopping all preventable deaths from his vantage point during the battle) only to pack up his ball and go home during one reset, instead choosing to desert the military base and get plastered at a local pub. Later, when asked by another character what they need to do next, he replies “I don’t know, we’ve never gotten this far before,” a response familiar to anyone who’s made a sudden leap forward in a particularly difficult video game level. But non-gamers needn’t worry; this all operates on a thinly metaphorical level throughout the film, leaving the film to offer numerous pleasures beyond such meta-textual analysis. The action sequences are the best kind of chaotic, with the tentacle-laden alien scourge burrowing into and out of the ground, coming at our protagonists from every angle in a flurry of motion, keeping the audience uneasy but never geographically confused. And while the explanation for Cruise’s existential malady is pure sci-fi gobbledygook (I mean that in the nicest way possible), it keeps the film moving briskly without getting bogged down in the whys and wherefores of his situation.

Tom Cruise’s performance here leaves little doubt as to his ability to carry a lead performance in a film. He’s also playing refreshingly against Cruisian type in the film’s early stages – a slick military PR huckster who has long assumed his silver tongue and camera-ready pearly grin would keep him far from the front lines for his entire military career. It’s only over the course of the film that he develops into the fleet-footed matinee idol that we’ve all come to expect. While this is most certainly Cruise’s show, he has never been one to overpower his fellow performers, so you also get fine work from his co-star Emily Blunt and delightful peripheral color being added by Bill Paxton (sporting a top-notch moustache and speech cadence), Brendan Gleeson and Noah Taylor.

When at his best, director Doug Liman seems able to take the barely-contained anarchy that is his wont and convert that manic energy into pleasant on-screen friction (the enjoyable Mr. and Mrs. Smith is a fine example of a tempestuous production giving way to solid entertainment) and if the news of this film’s production isn’t exaggerated, he’s done it again here. He’s proven quite adept at managing A-list stars in the service of getting dirty in his sandbox, turning in the pulpiest delight of the summer season so far. It’s by no means perfect. The action-packed finale is limp compared to what came before it, but this is propulsive entertainment that is quick-witted and enjoyable in a way that we should demand of all summer blockbusters.

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