Edge of Tomorrow

Boy, I wish this movie had a better name. Its working title, All You Need Is Kill – like the Japanese novel on which it's based – is no better, but Edge of Tomorrow sounds like a soap opera. It's hard to say whether this bland title deterred audience interest in the film, or if people are just kind of done with Tom Cruise, but it's a pity either way, as this is good, smart summer popcorn fare.

Tom Terrific plays a chickenhearted Army PR flack who, a few years in the future, is drafted into an international military assault on Europe, which has been taken over by terrifying, squidlike extraterrestrials. On this high-tech D-Day, the human troops are mercilessly slaughtered by the enemy. Cruise, who has no idea how to fight these creatures (he was branded a deserter 36 hours earlier, and is strapped into a complicated mech suit that he was never taught how to operate), accidentally kills one, which spits up acidic goo on his face.

Cruise dies, and then... wakes up the day before, right back at boot camp, where he started.

So yes, as you have no doubt heard, this is Aliens meets Groundhog Day (though perhaps Source Code is the better analogue). But, ably directed by Doug Liman and written by the dependable Christopher McQuarrie, along with Jez & John-Henry Butterworth (best known for the political drama Fair Game), Edge of Tomorrow stands on its own merits. It's clever, it's satisfying, and if it's not particularly deep, who cares? It gives you your money's worth.

Kudos to the filmmakers for keeping Emily Blunt's ass-kicking heroine in the center of the drama, and not just shunting her off to the side so that Cruise can smirk his way through the proceedings. He very much depends on her, and even grows to care for her over the time he spends with her (someone estimated it at 393 repeated days), even though her memories of him reset to zero each time he dies and wakes up again. Blunt was once supposed to play Black Widow in Iron Man 2, but had to turn it down because it interfered with her Gulliver's Travels commitments. (Wrong choice, Blunt!) She later said she was glad she didn't get stuck as the "supportive female" – though of course, with Scarlett Johansson in the role, Black Widow turned out to be a thoroughly relevant and complex character in The Avengers and Captain America: The Winter Soldier – so it's nice to see Blunt put her money where her mouth is, and make Edge of Tomorrow's Rita Vrataski such a strong heroine, even if the story arc, in deference to the premise, belongs to Cruise's character.

Speaking of which, I actually liked Cruise in this role. My usual spiel is that when he's asked to just do action stuff, he's fine, but when asked to "act" (i.e. speak), he fails to convince. But this time I really did buy him as the unlikable coward who slowly figures out how to defeat his alien enemies. The story suggests that there is no "inner superhero" that is released during this process, but that pure repetition – and basic survival instincts – are what really get his character through his oft-repeated day.