Tom Cruise fights aliens in the clever ‘Edge of Tomorrow’

Blunt and Cruise prepare for battle.

Three and a half stars

Edge of Tomorrow Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton. Directed by Doug Liman. Rated PG-13. Opens Friday.

With its TV-news images of a devastating alien attack, Edge of Tomorrow starts out looking like a standard humans-versus-aliens action spectacle. Punished for insubordination, U.S. Army Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) is thrown in with a motley crew about to participate in a massive beach operation that replicates the D-Day invasion of World War II. Director Doug Liman channels Saving Private Ryan in his depiction of the chaotic action, as human troops outfitted in giant metal exoskeletons attempt to destroy the alien hordes. Unprepared and frightened out of his wits, Cage doesn’t last long before getting killed.

And then he wakes up at the beginning of the same day, and the movie starts to tell a different kind of story. As impressive as the action in the opening battle is, Edge of Tomorrow becomes much more engaging once Cage discovers that he’s acquired the aliens’ ability to relive the same day over and over again, and he sets about training himself to defeat the enemy. At first cowardly and self-serving, willing to do anything to get out of combat, Cage turns into, well, Tom Cruise, thanks in part to guidance from war hero Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), who once experienced the same time-loop phenomenon.

Based on a Japanese novel with the much more attention-grabbing title All You Need Is Kill, Edge of Tomorrow is clever and even poignant during its first two-thirds, especially as we watch Cage die dozens of times so that he can start over and get things exactly right. The premise may recall the 1993 Bill Murray comedy Groundhog Day, and Liman injects the story with a surprising amount of humor, but the stakes are always clear, and Cruise and Blunt manage to make those stakes both global and personal without turning Cage and Rita into star-crossed lovers. It’s disappointing, then, that the engaging premise gets tossed aside during the climax in favor of the Battle to Destroy the Important Thing, bringing back the generic alien-invasion thriller that seemed to have been averted early on. Even so, the action remains exciting, centered around two characters whose fates are very much worth caring about.

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