Just the right balance of brains and silliness

Cert 12a | Four Stars

IRON MAN, Saving Private Ryan and Groundhog Day complement each other surprisingly well as inspiration for the latest Tom Cruise blockbusting sci-fi epic, Edge of Tomorrow, in which Hollywood’s smallest titan fights and dies and fights and dies over and over again.

Humans are locked in a battle with a species of predatory imperialist aliens called mimics. They’re losing and have their hopes pinned on a fancy new bit of weaponry, the “Exo-suit”. The Exo-suit was successfully trialled by the beautiful and fearsome Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) who has since become a pin up, used by army PR guys to encourage kids to enrol in preparation for the imminent large-scale offensive against the mimics in northern France.

Tom Cruise’s William Cage is one of those PR guys. He’s the army’s public face, a kind of post-iPod field-marshall Hague with perfect teeth. When he finds out that he’s also going to be on the front line he tries to wriggle out of service by blackmailing the general. He’s arrested and placed in a platoon with some of the hardest squaddies. Arriving on the beach in Normandy, he’s killed almost instantly but wakes up again, back in base camp, only for the entire situation to repeat itself.

Through contact with mimic blood he’s acquired a rare power that means the clocks are reset every time he dies, a bit like game over in a video game. This is explained to him by Rita Vrataski herself, who he bumps into in the melée in France.

Appropriately, a lot of Edge of Tomorrow feels familiar. The beach scene courts comparisons to Saving Private Ryan, and the whole armoured suit thing recalls both Iron Man and Pacific Rim. The time loop and narrative repetition feel similar to Groundhog Day and Memento. But for all the familiarity, there is a self-aware, shaggy-dog quality that feels original. It’s aware of the patience-testing potential of its central conceit and plays up to it, accepting the possibility that it might irritate in its quest to hypnotise.

Edge of Tomorrow is a “Blockbuster with brains” but not in the po-faced Christopher Nolan way we’ve come to expect. The Kafkaesque nightmare in which Cage finds himself is set up with a knowing playfulness that’s refreshing. Also smart is the decision to cast Tom Cruise as a smooth, cowardly PR guy. If his comedy roles and even a few of his action ones (Tropic Thunder and Jack Reacher come to mind) have proved anything, it’s that Cruise is surprisingly adept at irony. A tight script from Jez Butterworth gives him more to work with than last year’s (superficially similar) Oblivion.

In many ways this is the perfect summer blockbuster: stupid, smart and lots of fun.