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Edge of Tomorrow Review: Killer Déjà Vu is Great Until the End

Edge of Tomorrow is a great time travel epic that stumbles at the end.
Along with cancer survivalists, the newest fad in movies and television these days is the time travel plot. But in their efforts to either ret-con older broken tales or use it as vehicle for the story, they've become way too complex for their own good. Filled with either unresolved plot holes (X-Men: Days of Future Past) or offering nothing of value in the larger scheme of the picture (About Time), directors are leaving audiences distinctly confused as they emerge from theaters. Such is the case with Edge of Tomorrow, an enjoyable f/x epic that falters in the very final scene.

In a war-torn future where an alien invasion has destroyed most of Europe, Army PR Officer Bill Cage (Tom Cruise) is swept up into the conflict after his demotion and arrest. With little military training, Cage soon finds himself on a battlefield in which no human will survive. But his early fall in the battle unleashes an unforeseen benefit: he finds himself in a time loop where he must repeat the day of the battle everyday until he succeeds. As he struggles to understand this new power, he comes across the solider Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), whose heroism at the Battle of Verdun was due entirely to her similar ability to time travel (but has now lost). Rita and Bill train, fight, and die time and time again, until both realize that the goal isn't to win the next battle, but to destroy the hive mind known as The Omega. As the last time loop is unleashed, the duo must make the ultimate sacrifice (again) to ensure humanity can live to fight another day.

Director Doug Liman has crafted a very good-looking movie, complete with an entirely new form of alien known as a Mimic - not only do their time travel ability and speed give them the advantage to prepare for every contingency, their form is completely unique. But Liman also establishes very good character development for most of the cast, including Bill Paxton as Cage's commanding officer. His style is very much reminiscent of R. Lee Ermey's Sgt. Hartman in Full Metal Jacket, while several of Cruise's military unit enjoy their moments in the sun. But this is Cruise's show, and his chemistry with Blunt is as good as any we can remember from his recent films. We couldn't see her as Black Widow or Peggy Carter (she turned both down), but here she shines as a tough warrior who can't win without Cage, but who isn't bound by strict female conventions.

We've never minced words about our respect for Cruise - he's as good as ever, but now has the experience of making great films that he lacked early in his career. Here, he brings just enough humor and action to the dramatics, playing a man out of time and yet with all the time he needs. That makes for great conflict, as he struggles to grow beyond his d-bag mentality of a privileged officer and into a fighting machine that's trained brutally by Rita. Cruise could use his indomitable personality for evil here, portraying his character with a vanity that's made him unpopular among moviegoers. Instead, he distinctly underplays it, earning his training during a memorable (and hilarious) series of exercises with metallic spinning dummies. As each session fails, Rita simply ends Cage, allowing him to restart his day with his experiences intact. If you're anti-Cruise, the sheer number of times he dies in Tomorrow might become strangely cathartic.

But as we've learned, character growth comes from great writing, and Cruise employs Jack Reacher director Christopher McQuarrie to scribe this story based on the book "All You Need is Kill." Mixing elements of Groundhog Day, Source Code, The Butterfly Effect, and Starship Troopers, he and Jez Butterworth, along with John-Henry Butterworth keep the potentially-tiring plot moving forward with surprising injections of wit, allowing Liman to focus the action on our heroes while they learn how to defeat the Mimics literally through trial-by-fire. Our only problem with the plot arrives at the end, as Cruise awakens once more but at a totally different time. We won't reveal the result here, but its inclusion is totally unnecessary and actually over-complicates what was a very straight-forward time travel tale. Its appearance feels last-minute and shoe-horned, revealing a strange desire that the normally divisive Cruise actually survive the ordeal.

There's other missed opportunities, such as the movie's title change from "All You Need is Kill" - based entirely on test audience's problem with the word 'Kill' in the title - and the deletion of Jeremy Piven's role that was part of the shoot schedule. These are minor issues, so long as the ending wasn't reshot to accommodate further concerns. But even with the film's many successes, we're concerned that Edge might not connect with audiences, who've been fickle about Cruise since Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. Some are even using the word "bomb" to describe Tomorrow's box office chances. Bull. To us, Cruise is the indispensable lead, someone who brings his best while luring the best talent to his films. Why great films like Oblivion or Jack Reacher didn't connect is beyond us, but that shouldn't dissuade you from seeing it in. We'd also recommend 3D, IMAX, RPX, or Atmos - all of these are worth your time and will actually enhance the viewing experience (Are you listening, Transcendence).

Edge of Tomorrow succeeds on almost every level, delivering a well-crafted Science-Fiction epic whose only real detractor comes from trying too hard. Cruise and Blunt should make more movies together, and Liman hasn't lost his ability to bring a dose of humanity to big explosions and nasty endings. And yet, it still might face an uphill battle against the cry-fest The Fault in Our Stars. Cruise might not be the bankable actor he once was, but that doesn't mean we can't recommend this one.

Edge of Tomorrow is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language and brief suggestive material and has a runtime of 113 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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