What happens when the action hero dies before he saves the day? And then he dies again? And again? Tom Cruise has the answer to this little movie mystery.
Major Bill Cage isn't a muscle-bound hero type. In fact, he's always been more of a behind-the-desk kind of soldier. He's a former advertising guy who feels more comfortable creating PR videos and great-sounding press releases for the six o'clock news. But storming a beach with a rifle in hand? Ha. Not quite.
So when General Brigham suggests Cage and his camera crew be embedded in an upcoming military surge, all the major can do is try not to laugh out loud.
I mean, com'on! Yes, this war against the alien hordes has been raging on for a long, long time. And, yes, the public probably does need something to bolster moral, especially after nearly all of Europe got gobbled up. But there ain't a chance Major Bill Cage is gonna go out there into the middle of it all, never mind direct orders.
Why, he can't even stand the sight of blood, particularly his own. So if this general guy thinks he's going to threaten and harangue him out to the front lines, well, Cage'll just have to start doing some threatening of his own. After all, he's got the skills to pin the blame for a failing war effort on anyone he pleases. So a certain, ahem, general had better watch his words.
Just like that, Cage is arrested, stripped of rank and slapped in chains …
… and he wakes to find himself in a staging area at London's Heathrow Airport.
He'll be going out with the forces the next day after all, it seems. But instead of being an officer on a special mission, he'll be just another grunt strapped into one of those new exoskeleton weapon thingies. In other words, he'll be a dead man.
Indeed, when the next day's battle arrives, Cage hits the beach landing point and starts running for his life. He can't even figure out how to switch the safety off on his suit-mounted guns. He's a sitting duck, and he's dead within five minutes.
Just before the end arrives, though, through sheer luck, Cage does manage to release that safety and let some firepower loose on one of those larger, more threatening Alpha creatures in the alien pack. The two of them, man and beast, die together, their blood mingling …
… and Cage wakes to find himself in a staging area at Heathrow.
Wait a minute. Or maybe wait a whole day! Didn't this already happen? It seems so familiar. The barking sergeant, the prep for battle. And before you know it, Cage is right back out there on the beach, running for his life. Of course he knows where the safety switch is this time. And he fairs a bit better. For a little while longer. You know, maybe six minutes. Then he dies again …
… and wakes up in a staging area at Heathrow.
Three, four, five, 105 times. Waking, prepping, dropping and dying. Over and over, Cage keeps going through the same 30-hour loop. Like some kind of long-play iPod tune stuck on repeat. A killer case of deja vu. Waking, prepping, dropping and dying.
Each time, though, he learns something new. And he starts to figure out how to outthink the patterns, how to break them. He knows where the bombs will blow and where the creatures will leap. And he keeps getting farther up the beach before …
… he wakes up at Heathrow.
Then he runs into Rita Vrataski. She's the Angel of Verdun, the only soldier to actually lead a successful surge against the attacking aliens. Cage saves her life, if you can believe it. He had seen the creatures attack Rita before he dies during a previous cycle. So he steps right up and blasts them this time as they emerge from hiding.
After Cage moves through his list of pinpoint precision kills, Rita looks at him with a slack jaw. Is it a look of recognition? Does she know something he doesn't? And just before the transport blows up next to them she says, "Find me when you wake up."
Cage does find Rita after he wakes at Heathrow, and their partnership sets him on a slow path to becoming a better soldier and a better man. As time goes on (or doesn't, as the case may be), we see him and others giving their all to battle their relentless foe, fighting fearlessly for those around them. Cage grows to selflessly love Rita, and he becomes committed to doing absolutely anything to find a way to save her … along with all of mankind. He's not alone in that later goal: A number of soldiers are willing to stand fast in hopeless situations to further that aim.
Though Rita doesn't remember the many looped days that Cage knows, she soon comes to immediately re-recognize his blossoming goodness and trustworthiness.
Cage slyly talks to Rita about somehow transferring the alien DNA (the time-looping substance that found its way into his bloodstream) from one human to another through bodily fluids. She catches on that he's suggesting they have sex … and quickly shuts him down, letting him know that she's tried it before and it doesn't work.
Somebody makes a coarse crack about hooking up with two girls at once. Rita wears a flak vest that reveals quite a bit of her bare back. A soldier suits up in his mech armor without his uniform, allowing the camera to catch a glimpse of his bare backside. Several guys are seen shirtless in their barracks.
Blasting, pummeling images of war, its dead and dying clutter the screen. And because of the looping/time-travel conceit, some characters—particularly Cage and Rita—are seen being killed over and over and over again, each death a slight variation of the last.
Those deaths include percussive explosions, impalements from creature tentacles, and images of our heroes being strafed by shrapnel and banged by large mechanical devices and vehicles. A number of times we see one or the other of them lying prone, dead with a glazed-over expression.
As Rita quickly tries to train Cage and bring him up to speed as a soldier, he's battered relentlessly—bones routinely breaking. In each case it's recognized that Cage must "die" in order to restart the day and thus get on with the important training process, so Rita casually shoots him in the head whenever he's hurt. (We generally see her point the gun at the camera and pull the trigger.)
Quantities of people die in huge explosions. A guy is crushed (several times) by a gigantic crashing transport plane. An airborne vessel blows up in repeated loops, burning soldiers and sucking them out through a hole torn in the craft's side. Swirling tentacled creatures (called Mimics) grab and throw men and women around like crumpled wads of paper. A man detonates a Mimic with a Claymore land mine held to his chest between them. Two soldiers use a Claymore to destroy a fuel truck, enveloping themselves and a number of the aliens in an eruption of flame and shrapnel. Machine guns and RPGs do their share of damage. A man is knocked out by a Taser and run over by a truck. Rita wields a large sword, using it to hack into the Mimics on a regular basis. Cage is dragged a long distance, dangling outside a fast-moving craft by one arm. He slams a multi-needled transponder device into his leg.
Crude or Profane Language
In the heat of battle, one (unfinished) f-word and four or five s-words are joined by a handful each of "a‑‑," "b‑‑ch," "b-llocks" and "b‑‑tard." God's name is misused three or four times (once with "d‑‑n"), Christ's twice. We repeatedly see posters of Rita that sport the slogan "Full Metal B‑‑ch."
Drug and Alcohol Content
Cage drinks a beer at a bar.
Other Negative Elements
Cage's repeated deaths are sometimes played for laughs.
While at the screening for this Tom Cruise actioner, I overheard someone say that Edge of Tomorrow was sort of a combination of the romcom fantasy Groundhog Day and the sci-fi blaster Starship Troopers. And that's likely to be the type of cinematic comparisons many will make. But this pic is neither as lightheartedly silly as the former flick, nor as gruesomely splattering as the latter.
What we have here is a well-crafted, well-acted, explosive chunk of summer entertainment. The film captures the broad spirit of the Japanese light and graphic novels (All You Need Is Kill) it's based on, telling the story of a guy who starts out fearful and self-centered, then reshapes himself into a bona fide hero willing to do anything to protect those he loves. He does this, of course, by reliving a repeating loop of painful preparation and devastating war.
There's a love story at play here, too. But it's an unrequited love that Major Cage feels. As he joins in the battles beside the hard-fighting Rita, he starts to learn more and more about her and come to care for the woman behind the warrior. While for Rita, it's always their first day together.
Edge of Tomorrow tries hard to keep the most grisly and gory things on the battlefield out of the camera's view, but Cage's repeated visits to the same war-torn beach landing is still intense. Cage and almost all of his compatriots are crushed, battered, thrown and blasted repeatedly … crushed, battered, thrown and blasted repeatedly … crushed, battered, thrown and blasted repeatedly.
Taking things one step further into the "hell of war," the idea of Rita herself doing the "honors" of killing him during training each time he's injured brushes up uncomfortably close to the real-life moral quandary of thinking death might be a path toward "solving" our problems or merely thinking of it too casually.
Amid that, though, this is unquestionably a tale of bravery. It's a movie that clearly tells us there are things worth fighting for. That there are those worth protecting. That even the meekest among us can make a difference if we reach far enough and try hard enough to do what's right.
Those are all things we need to hear over and over again.