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Review: Edge of Tomorrow

Ever since the first trailer broke for Edge of Tomorrow, the movie hasn't been able to shake the label that it's basically Groundhog Day dripped through a sci-fi filter. While there's some truth to that - and also truth in that it's similar to Source Code, a comparison that curiously isn't being made much - such a designation proves to be woefully limiting for a film as exhilarating as this one. It's only been a couple of weeks since X-Men: Days of Future Past laid an early claim for the title of the summer's best blockbuster, and already we have another potent contender. In fact, 2014 has already seen enough high-caliber releases that if the rest of the summer follows suit, I might have enough for a 10 Best list by Labor Day and can take off the remainder of the year.

I jest, of course. Still, Edge of Tomorrow is excellent enough that it will certainly be remembered at year's close. Endlessly entertaining and ceaselessly innovative, this futuristic saga, an adaptation of a Japanese novel with the groovy name All You Need Is Kill, finds Tom Cruise once again working his movie-star mojo in the role of Major William Cage, the military's leading p.r. flack and a wiz at selling the ongoing war against invading alien forces nicknamed "Mimics." But when a no-nonsense general (Brendan Gleeson) orders him to accompany the first wave of troops set to fight the e.t.s along the French coast, he refuses, forcing the general to have him arrested as a deserter and shipping him to the front as an ordinary soldier.

Once on the battlefield, Cage proves to be utterly worthless - he's a far cry from Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), a kick-ass combatant who has become the face of humanity's stand against its evil attackers. Cage is so incompetent, in fact, that he's quickly killed ... only to then find himself waking up back at the barracks on the day before the beachfront battle commences. To reveal more would be to spoil the picture's numerous surprises; suffice it to say that Cage dies repeatedly, but rather than forge a rapport with Punxsutawney Phil, he becomes acquainted with Rita, the one person who understands why he seems stuck in an endless loop.

With Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity) as director and an angel-kissed script by Oscar winner Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects) and the team of Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth (the Valerie Plame drama Fair Game), it's clear that complexity and ingenuity won't be in short supply. But what's unexpected is the high level of humor coursing through the film, with much of it in a darkly comic vein that perfectly aligns with Cage's sense of frustration and resignation as he's required to carry out the same actions over and over again (there's a bit involving a moving vehicle that will doubtless remain the year's best sick joke).

As for the effects work, it's nothing short of superb, with the Mimics proving to be expertly designed - and genuinely frightening - creatures. Yet all the fancy CGI wouldn't amount to anything if we weren't actively involved in the characters' fates (see Cruise's recent sci-fi failure Oblivion as a readily available example of a project overwhelmed by its visuals), and the take-no-prisoners performance by Blunt and especially the multifaceted work by Cruise ensure that our emotions are as actively engaged as our imagination.

If Edge of Tomorrow unfortunately turns a bit conventional as it enters its final stretch, that's a small price to pay for what's overall a socko motion picture that demands to be seen today.