Apropos of time travel, which this movie concerns, wouldn't you love to go back to the days when Tom Cruise made science- fiction films that didn't blow? The difference between the ones that do and the ones that don't is all about the director, of course. The ones he made with Spielberg (Minority Report and War of the Worlds) don't blow. The ones he's made with everybody else are gale-force flops.
Can you even recall the plot of last year's mega-budget dud Oblivion? Made with Joseph Kosinski (Tron: Legacy), it set a record for instant forgettability. I typed 600 words about it, yet — except for a vague image of Cruise in a futuristic outfit firing a futuristic weapon — I come up blank. Though I'm guessing the fate of mankind was in his hands.
In Doug Liman's Edge of Tomorrow, Cruise also fires futuristic weapons in a futuristic outfit and holds the fate of mankind in his hands. But this time he does so trapped in a Groundhog Day-style time loop. Liman's the brains behind the Bourne franchise, so one approaches the picture with great expectations of breathless action, depth of character and narrative dazzle. One is in for great disappointment.
The idea is that the planet's under attack by aliens called "mimics" for no discernible reason. They're mechanical Tasmanian devils with razor-sharp tendrils that zip around slicing and dicing everything in sight, sort of like supersize versions of the blade assembly in your blender.
With most of Europe reduced to rubble, the humans have just scored their first victory under the leadership of a sword-wielding warrior named Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt). Army PR specialist William Cage (Cruise) is ordered to chronicle her inspirational exploits at the front. But he isn't in the fight five minutes before a contrived series of events results in his being killed and then waking up the day before the battle, a cycle that's repeated a number of times. A number that's really big.
Cruise's performance has been called a departure because his character's portrayed as cowardly early on, but that completely misses the point. The script, by Christopher McQuarrie with Jez and John-Henry Butterworth, starts Cage out as a wimp to highlight what a badass he becomes, honing his combat skills with each do-over. By the movie's midpoint, he's indistinguishable from the action figures Cruise has played countless times.
Likewise, there's little we haven't seen before in the spidery space invaders or the generic battles. The closest the picture comes to tweaking formula is in temporarily reversing the traditional male-female dynamic. For a few minutes, Blunt's no-nonsense ninja's a far more potent figure than Cruise's hapless flack, but let's not get too excited. We do, after all, live in the age of Brave, The Hunger Games and girls with dragon tattoos. We're not exactly breaking new ground here.
By the time Act Three rolls around, things have deteriorated from repetitive to downright silly. The writing team reportedly struggled with the ending and ultimately threw up its hands. You don't want to know what Liman has waiting for you at the Louvre. Art has nothing to do with it, believe me.
The bottom line? Another summer movie season, another Tom Cruise tentpole. Ho hum. It's practically part of nature's cycle at this point. The irony is that the star is trapped in a real-life time warp of his own design, with an upcoming slate that includes Top Gun 2, Mission: Impossible 5 and Jack Reacher: Never Go Back. "Never go back." That's rich.
Want to know where you should never go? Within a mile of Edge of Tomorrow.