The challenge with a movie such as Edge of Tomorrow involves telling a story based on repetition without making it feel repetitive. Liman mostly succeeds, even if the plot occasionally baffles.
Cruise plays Maj. William Cage, an officer who has been recruited into the military because he was a skilled ad man in civilian life. At war with an alien race called Mimics, the military evidently needs men who know how to manipulate public opinion.
No one is more surprised than the glad-handing Cage when a general (Brendan Gleeson) tells him that he's being shipped to the front to be part of the first wave of a desperate invasion.
Why? Maybe because he's Tom Cruise and he has to somehow be thrown into the fray.
Cage tries to wangle his way out of the assignment, but the general has him arrested and dumped him into the middle of a unit of hardened combat vets.
With little time to adjust, the untrained Cage finds himself on a beachhead fighting creatures that spring into action with whiplash-like fury. They look like toys designed by a sadist who hates kids, part Slinky, part razor-blades.
In Edge of Tomorrow, soldiers don't make amphibious landings: They're dropped from crafts that hover over the water in pulse-quickening sequences designed to rattle the nerves.
The battle scenes -- presented in Saving Private Ryan style -- are chaotic and convincing, so much so that the invasion costs Cage and fellow combatant (Emily Blunt) their lives.
No sooner is Cage killed than he wakes up back at a command post, confused and apparently caught up in a never-ending cycle in which he's doomed to repeat the landing, each time getting a bit further toward the objective of destroying the source -- it's called the Omega -- that controls the creatures that are destroying the Earth.
We later learn that Blunt's Rita Vratask once had the same ability to relive her last day that Cage now possesses. Rita, affectionately known to her fellow troopers as Full Metal Bitch, is a seasoned warrior who has become a poster-girl for the military.
Cruise wisely has found a role that allows him to retain his action-movie standing in reasonably credible fashion. He makes a convincing transition from a smiling media man to a hardened warrior, keeping his smile under control and sometimes playing second fiddle to Blunt, whose character eventually agrees to give Cage some training.
Adapted from a 2004 novel by Hiroshi Sakurazaka (All You Need is Kill) by a trio of credited writers, Edge of Tomorrow doesn't feature much by way of a supporting cast, although Bill Paxton does stand-out work as a smug, by-the-book noncom who pushes Cage into battle, after having been told that he's a deserter.
Tough to say whether there's a ton of deeper meaning here, but the consistely excting Edge of Tomorrow -- which resists the mournful ending that would have greatly ennobled it -- feels like it's about something more than action. Neat trick.