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In a not-so-distant future, malevolent aliens take over the European continent but are held back at the English Channel. Major William Cage (Tom Cruise), an American officer working in media relations, offers a ray of hope on the TV news, plugging a special battle suit that gives soldiers the strength and firepower to battle the Mimics, as the aliens are known. Cage travels to London, where the commanding general orders him to follow the army as an embedded reporter as part of an all-out attack against the Mimics.

Cage promptly wimps out. He claims he is not a solider, just an ad man, the Madison Avenue Don Draper sort, who is good at selling the war and is ready to use blackmail to avoid the battle. Not impressed, the general has Cage stripped of his rank and sent to join a combat unit. Cage lumbers on to the Normandy beaches where the terrible Mimics are already decimating the landing party. With his battle suit, Cage manages to kill a particularly large Mimic and is showered in its blood before he dies.

Well, that’s about the first 20 or so minutes of the movie. If you don’t want to know the rest, stop reading here and head out to the theater now. I saw it knowing nothing about the plot and enjoyed some surprises. (My son later couldn’t believe me as the plot conceit had been revealed in trailers and was right on the movie poster outside.)

Now that you are sufficiently spoiler-alerted, know that Cage comes back to life—at the exact moment when he joins the combat unit. Once again, he is forced to join the battle, and again he is killed in action. Caught in a time loop, he experiences the same battle over and over.

Like Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day, Cage must learn from his mistakes to have any chance of breaking out of the time loop. He soon obtains the help of Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), an elite soldier who explains his predicament. Cage had initially killed an “Alpha” Mimic and so gained the ability to reset time, just like the “Omega” Mimic that mysteriously controls the entire alien horde from an unknown location. Rita trains Cage, and he progresses each day closer to the Omega.

Edge of Tomorrow cleverly mixes science fiction with the action and adventure genre while adding a fair amount of humor. As in Groundhog Day, much of the humor comes from repetition, seeing the main character try and fail at living a better day.

Added to that humor is the irony of seeing Tom Cruise—yes Tom Cruise—play a fearful and uncoordinated soldier. Such irony is nicely underscored through Emily Blunt’s deft portrayal of Rita as the consummate war hero, a modern-day Joan of Arc complete with armor and battle sword.

It was no coincidence that the movie was released on June 6, the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings in France. Director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity) references WW II movies such as Saving Private Ryan in the dizzying battle scenes on the Normandy beaches.

Based on the Japanese novel All You Need Is Kill, the film’s characterization owes even more to manga and to science fiction movies like Aliens and Avatar that portray army grunts caught up in an intergalactic battle. Yet as my son agreed, Edge of Tomorrow’s format is in fact closest to the “respawning” of a video game player, killed in battle but soon back to life to restart the mission.

With the terms “Alpha” and “Omega”—and especially with blood as the source of new life—the movie is heavy on religious symbolism. In contrast to typical blockbuster saviors, Cage is a reluctant hero who must learn from his mistakes and acquire both skill and courage. Most importantly, he learns empathy and the need for self-sacrifice.

Much has been made of the fact that another movie with two teenage cancer patients beat out this blockbuster at the box office, causing critics to wonder if the “fault” was in the “star,” Tom Cruise. Whatever moviegoers’ past and present opinions might be, Cruise does manage to carry the film, aided by Blunt and a range of competent character actors.

While the film’s graphic violence is definitely not for younger viewers, this action-science-fiction-thriller-videogame-comedy is a well-constructed piece of entertainment, showing a little more depth than your typical summer alien encounter at the multiplex. (Warner Bros.)

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