Cinema has produced some strange dating stories during the past century; Preston Sturges' marvelous screwball romp, The Palm Beach Story, comes to mind as an especially odd example of courtship run amok. But I'd be hard pressed to think of one that's more peculiar than Edge of Tomorrow , a messily violent tale of romantic flirtation set during the apocalypse and born from one man's thousand demises.
Doug Liman's big-budget sci-fi epic stars Tom Cruise as William Cage, a high-ranking military spokesperson who sells the American public on a war against alien insurgents who've taken over most of Western Europe. On the eve of the multi-front Allied invasion—supposedly the final blow that will destroy the shape-shifting "mimics" once and for all—Cage is forced into combat after trying to blackmail the United Defense Force general (Brendan Gleeson) behind the military campaign.
Dragging his feet at every turn, Cage is labeled a coward and a deserter by the eccentric roughnecks he encounters along the way. When the epic battle begins on the beaches of Northern France, this once arrogant man is thrust into an exploding landscape of spinning aircraft, shredded metal and sandy carnage. Imagine Saving P ivate Ryan but with fleet airships and advanced weaponry. As predicted by his commanding officer (a salty Bill Paxton), Cage dies almost immediately, but not before he ingests the lifeblood of a special mimic that allows him to relive this fateful day over and over again.
Watching Cage Live. Die. Repeat. without any purpose is pretty amusing; Liman mixes up the darkly macabre scenarios just enough to smartly riff on the comic déjà vu template perfected by Groundhog Day in 1993. During one variation on the battle, Cage meets Rita (Emily Blunt), a skilled soldier and hero of the American cause who has experienced similar reboot capabilities during a previous conflict. Using trial and error (the deaths keep on coming), they join forces to figure out the perfect way to escape the failed invasion and press inland to find the alien brain controlling all the mimics.
Needless to say, Edge of Tomorrow is heavy on plot. The splintered, overlapping narrative almost demands it. But between the repetitive dialogue and exposition is an interesting approach to the classic love story. As Cage goes through one traumatic experience after the next, essentially following the same footsteps each time until reaching new frontier, his affection for Rita grows. It's entirely unspoken and completely one-sided, but his decisions eventually hinge on her safety, complicating the mission at hand. His time spent with her also allows for a certain advantage when it comes to understanding her emotional vulnerability. Guys need all the help they can get in this department. The more times Cage lives and dies, the more he learns about Rita's past, present and future.
Liman is a proven action filmmaker; 2002's The Bourne Identity contains some of the great car-chase sequences and fight scenes in recent times. Edge of Tomorrow doesn't falter in this area, either; each moment of combat feels like a cinematic whirlwind of controlled chaos. Yet it's the sensitivity Liman feels toward Cage's unrequited longing that gives the film surprising weight. Saving the world is simply an afterthought for this smitten martyr.
Edge of Tomorrow —which opens Friday, June 6—refuses many of the gratuitous conventions that anchor typical summer movies, making it that rare eccentric blockbuster with personality. The downfall of Earth is nothing compared to a lost chance at personal connection. Cage feels it, and eventually Rita does, too. That both are put through the literal (and figurative) meat grinder before reaching this epiphany makes for a nice allegory about the rocky travails of modern serenading. Getting a woman's attention has never been so masochistic.