Time travel is always a sticky plot device. You either accept it in spite of all its implausibility or you don’t. Watching Edge of Tomorrow, Tom Cruise’s latest sci-fi action flick, the viewer will want to accept it. The basic concept behind the movie is best described as Groundhog Day meets Starship Troopers—a unique and entertaining pairing, creatively synthesized to avoid feeling contrived.
Central to the story, which is set in the not-too-distant future, is an invasive alien race (“Mimics”) brought to earth via a meteorite. Their infestation of continental Europe has plunged the entire world into war, with humanity battling to quell the spread with a NATO-led force known as the United Defense Force. Major William Cage (Cruise), the public-relations brain behind the war effort, finds himself thrown into combat training in the run-up to a major D-Day type offensive after attempting to blackmail his superior officer. But after dying on the battlefield amid the doomed operation, he finds himself waking up at the same moment 24 hours earlier. Again, he dies, and again, he wakes up. Each death has the same outcome: Cage wakes up and relives the same day.
Stuck in this time-loop, Cage resolves to use his repeated experience to improve his skill in combating the alien threat. He eventually teams up with the cold, stern, but skilled Sergeant Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), the poster child for the war. The two work together during each 24-hour period—over and over again—discovering what lies at the heart of the Mimics’ invasion strategy and hoping to exploit Cage’s predicament to rid the world of the alien menace once and for all.
Based on the Japanese novel Nothing But Kill, the storyline proves intriguing enough to draw us in. Cruise’s character is compelling. And the time-loop plot device is used, as it was with Phil Connors (Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day), to provide the protagonist with an opportunity for growth. Cage begins as a slick coward who employs shady means to avoid the fray of the very war he sells. By living and dying through battle daily and repeatedly, he’s able to hone not only his combat skills, but also his courage, sense of camaraderie, and commitment to his duty. The character of Rita Vrataski is successfully developed beyond the token “action girl” trope and the chemistry between her and Cage is explored well. Her status as the most seasoned warrior in the fight emerges quite naturally from within the story and doesn’t feel forced.
All of these elements work so well together that you’re almost able to overlook the film’s main flaw: it simply doesn’t work. There is a hole that throws off the entire narrative arithmetic of the “time-loop” plot device and it keeps the movie from adding up. I won’t say what it is, but if you spot it, it might be enough to sink the film for you. One can look beyond the implausibility of time travel, but conceptual flaws with the rules of plot device—once established in the film—are more difficult to get around. Yet we want to get around it in this case, for Edge of Tomorrow is compelling and entertaining. With solid special effects, action sequences, a good catch, and decent characters, it’s a nice reprieve from the superheroes that dominate the action-adventure genre these days. If you have it in you to look past the central writing weakness, you’ll have a good time.