In the last few years, there’s been a relative rash of science-fiction movies preoccupied with time: the relationship drama About Time, in which time travel is presented as a minimally-disruptive tool that mostly pays off in self-knowledge; the noir mystery Looper, in which time travel is a way to bring your past mistakes back to haunt you, and In Time, a slice of ambitious trope meatloaf in which everyone’s given a certain dose of time that isn’t active until a certain age past which no one actually ages—making time a universal currency that can be forcibly taken from you, because despite being advanced enough to have incorporated bioware that stops your heart when your money runs out, technology of the future cannot provide passwords.
To some degree, of course, time travel will always be a handwaver. Convenient real-life parallels (oddly-vampiric blood disorders) offer no fallback for something we experience as a single straight line, and time travel narratives involve so much causality that plot holes are pretty much guaranteed. Some of these concepts hold up better than others, but whether or not you’re along for the ride is a fundamental factor in your ability to enjoy the rest. This threshold is different for everyone. My personal feeling is that every movie gets one outlandish concept it then has to sell to me. Everyone has a puppy surgically grafted onto their chest? Fine. I’m with you. But there should be a “Please Quiet Your Puppies” announcement in every movie theater, is all.
Edge of Tomorrow makes a remarkably stylish entry into this genre—time travel, not puppy grafting—and thanks to Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s source novel, All You Need is Kill, any causality muddles are elegantly eliminated in favor of the reset button death provides. There’s no way the movie is unaware of the meta satisfaction of its smarmy hero Cage being shot repeatedly in the head by Rita Vrataski after every tactical failure. (It might have had a little more resonance with, say, Ken Watanabe on the business end, but Tom Cruise gets what he wants.) It’s a wrenching shortcut to starting over, laced with the nihilistic thrill that there’s nothing wrong with you a little death can’t fix.
Aware that it’s carrying not just time travel but Groundhog Day associations, Edge of Tomorrow turns that familiarity to advantage: It stays in the loop just long enough to confirm reality, then gamely hops straight to the necessaries. Besides a handy impression of the thousand replays necessary to achieve the action-hero dexterity a Cruise movie demands, this also provides a renewable resource of suspense. When one aspect is eliminated—the question of “Will she believe him when he interrupts her weirdly-sexy yoga pose?” can quickly be discarded for “Do they make it off the beach?”—another takes its place, and story breakthroughs take on both the thrill of the unknown and the unspoken tenor that just because the audience hasn’t been here before doesn’t mean Cage hasn’t already died on that spot a dozen times. Much of the film’s see-it-again appeal comes from the dexterity with which Doug Liman and editors James Herbert and Laura Jennings incorporate the dozens of iterations that play out over the course of a fly-by two hours. Knowing how it works saps none of the tension; as with all great action thrillers, rewatching it just brings you in on the details.
There are, admittedly, a few eyebrow-raisers in Edge of Tomorrow. The movie plays out its premise beautifully and earns much of the main emotional arc, but the plot inevitably leans harder on the just-go-with-it button in the last half hour or so as it inches toward the big fight. However, overall, it benefits so much from the expert deployment of time-travel tropes that it earns a pass on a little alien acid blood. It has potential to be a breakout hit. If you see it in theaters, please quiet your puppies.
Matt Damon delivers in "The Martian"