It just may be the perfect Tom Cruise movie for the 21st century.
For his fans, “Edge of Tomorrow” offers enough of the old Cruise standbys — the random motorcycle scene, the romance with a beauty young enough to be his daughter, etc. — while showcasing a rarely seen side of the actor.
For his detractors, especially those who turned on him the minute his feet met Oprah’s couch, there’s the visceral kick of seeing him repeatedly shot, skewered, slammed, smashed, smushed and generally treated like “South Park’s” Kenny back in the day.
Major William Cage (Cruise) spends his days as a talking head, skipping across TV channels while trumpeting the results of the military’s new ExoSuit.
The technology — a little “RoboCop” without the tragedy; a little “Elysium” without the bone screws — has been vital to the ongoing war against the Mimics, the “perfectly evolved, world-conquering organism(s)” that crash landed in Germany and began running roughshod across Europe.
As Cage tells it, Sgt. Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), despite receiving the bare minimum of training with the ExoSuit, used it to almost single-handedly fight back the critters, leading to her being hailed as the Angel of Verdun.
And, since Cage has done such a bang-up job of turning Rita into a household name, the United Defense Force’s General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) orders him to accompany the impending Normandy-style beach landing to drum up support for the human invasion.
Cage is far from Cruise’s typical brand of cocksure hero. He’s never seen combat. The sight of blood makes him queasy. He does everything he can to avoid the front lines, including scampering willy-nilly from the general’s office.
After being stun-gunned, Cage wakes up handcuffed at a forward operating base at London’s Heathrow Airport, under the command of a gruff master sergeant (Bill Paxton) who’s been given paperwork declaring Cage a deserter and a private who likes to impersonate an officer.
Cage is soon thrown into an ExoSuit that’s nowhere near as easy to master as he’s led the world to believe — he can’t even figure out how to turn off the safety on his hand cannons — and dumped onto a beach where, within minutes, he’s killed by a Mimic.
Then Cage wakes up handcuffed at Heathrow to start the day again.
And again. And again. And again. Every time he dies.
Based on Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s “All You Need Is Kill,” which in no way sounds like a bad soap opera, “Edge of Tomorrow” is basically “Groundhog Day” meets “Halo,” with a sergeant’s calling Cage a maggot serving as the movie’s “I Got You Babe.”
Cage survives a bit longer each time, becoming a deadlier weapon as he goes, and eventually seeks out Rita in an attempt to once and for all wipe out the Mimics, ugly little buggers that look like a Rastafarian squid crossbred with one of those killer trees from “Maleficent.”
By forcing Cage to remember movements and patterns to get himself and Rita across much of France to defeat a final enemy, director Doug Liman (“The Bourne Identity”) and writers Christopher McQuarrie (“The Usual Suspects”) and Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth (“Fair Game”) have assembled one of the video game-iest movies you’ll ever see.
And, for the most part, it works.
Yes, the inevitable Cage-Rita romance comes across as vain and a little silly.
But for someone who very well may never have broken a sweat onscreen, Blunt wears it well. Whenever she’s wielding Rita’s weapon of choice, which can best be described as the Cricket Bat of Doom, you believe she knows how to use it.
“Edge of Tomorrow” also manages to subvert almost everything audiences have come to expect from Cruise in an action movie. His sniveling coward routine is a hoot. And, aside from his nutty, over-the-top turns in “Tropic Thunder” and “Rock of Ages,” this is as good as he’s been since 1999’s “Magnolia.”
Unlike other time-loop stories, this one at least offers a reason for Cage’s (mis)fortune.
And, as opposed to many would-be blockbusters, most of the movie’s reported $175 million-plus budget shows up onscreen. “Edge of Tomorrow” is big, loud and undeniably fun.
It’s also unexpectedly funny, as though Cruise realizes a certain percentage of the audience is there just to see him be repeatedly mangled.
As a result, “Edge of Tomorrow” should keep you on the edge of your seat.
Whether you love Cruise or loathe him.
Christopher Lawrence reviews movies for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Contact him at email@example.com.