Edge of Tomorrow may be the best video game movie ever made. Which is strange since it isn't actually based on a video game.
This certainly looks like a first-person shooter game, with futuristic soldiers in exo-body armor blasting tentacled dervishes from outer space called Mimics, in terrain located at the intersection of urban decay and outback death. At its core, the plot is merely a frenetically violent game of capture the flag. You've seen it before.
What sets apart Edge of Tomorrow is how it celebrates trial-and-error frustrations leading to the end game, learning through failure and repetition. That's the side of gaming even resolute avoiders of playing can understand and part of what makes it addicting. Life with a reset button. Who wouldn't want that for real?
This is where an obligatory reference to Groundhog Day is due, and after seeing Edge of Tomorrow there's minor merit to the comparison. The first half of Doug Liman's movie finds surprising humor in the time-loop travails of Maj. William Cage (Tom Cruise). It can be simple as Cage short-cutting already heard conversations, or a CGI punchline like a warcraft landing like a Looney Tunes boulder on a soldier's head.
Then a scientist (Noah Taylor) starts explaining what's going on, making the plot denser with exposition after being faintly confounding was working so well. At one juncture the time-loop becomes moot, stripping Edge of Tomorrow of its strongest play. The final 30 minutes is as generic as it gets in summertime.
Yet throughout Edge of Tomorrow — a lousy title, sounding like a soap opera or a book by L. Ron Hubbard — the performances are generally solid enough to carry viewers past any problems.
Emily Blunt shows a decent amount of toughness as super soldier Rita Vratasky, a hero of the Mimic wars who has experience with Cage's time-loop dilemma. Brendan Gleeson's gruffness is always a pleasure, playing a general Cage irks into a demotion and front-line duty. By far the most enjoyable turn is Bill Paxton's as the increasingly perplexed drill sergeant Cage faces every reset.
Finally, there's Cruise, smartly introducing Cage as an adult version of his self-entitled teenage roles, a slickster expecting strings to be pulled. As the time-loop progresses, Cruise's skill at playing opportunists then action figures kicks in. It's his persona wrapped in a single role, like Maleficent is for Angelina Jolie, another star we may be tired of hearing about, reminding us why we care.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall on Twitter.