Doug Liman, director of the terrific new sci-fi thriller Edge of Tomorrow, is best known for propulsive action movies like Go and the original Bourne Identity. But what he really wants to be, it seems, is contemporary cinema's foremost chronicler of relationships under pressure.
Liman deviated from genre films with 2010's Fair Game, a fact-based story that explores how media coverage threatened the marriage of whistleblower Joe Wilson and outed intelligence operative Valerie Plame. And though Liman's Mr. & Mrs. Smith is primarily remembered as the launch of the "Brangelina" relationship, it's an effective and entertaining tale about fixing a failing marriage.
Nothing in the basic premise of Edge of Tomorrow, adapted from Hiroshi Sakurazaka's 2004 novel All You Need Is Kill, concerns relationship dynamics. This is the story of an invasion by an alien group known as the Mimics. Tom Cruise stars as William Cage, a military public relations officer who gets thrown into battle for the first time. When he dies in that battle, a curious thing happens: He wakes up two days earlier, stuck in a time loop. He's able to repeat the 24 hours leading up to the attack, always remembering the events he's lived while nobody else does.
Edge of Tomorrow is reminiscent of the 2011 thriller Source Code, in which a man is sent back in time repeatedly to gather the information necessary to prevent a terrorist attack. Liman and his writing team find creative, often hilarious ways to tell this story, highlighting the way Cage uses his knowledge of events to manipulate others. The design of the Mimics is inventive, too. They're like massive rolling virus cells, covered in aggressive tentacles. Action sequences aren't steeped in CGI, and the "find and kill the leader" plot moves forward with impressive efficiency.
So what does this have to do with marriage? Enter the relationship between Cage and Sgt. Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), a soldier legendary for her Mimic-killing prowess, largely because she was once caught in a repeating loop. While Cage's loop helps him learn from his mistakes on the battlefield, it also offers him a chance to grow up. Vrataski may not remember Cage as the days repeat themselves, but she matters more and more to him every time he returns to the time before the attack. When it becomes clear that her life is in grave danger, he focuses on finding a way they can both survive.
Great genre work has long been a way to explore human nature. Edge of Tomorrow's simple, smart pleasures include a look at how many screw-ups it can take to learn there's something worth fighting for other than your own existence.