Tom Cruise saves mankind, defeats age in Edge of Tomorrow, his best recent vehicle 

All You Need Is Cruise

All You Need Is Cruise

Tom Cruise continues his never-ending comeback as a middle-aged badass in Edge of Tomorrow, a science-fiction/war movie hybrid that's like Groundhog Day by way of Joe Haldeman's Forever War. Apart from featuring memorably intense action scenes and a playful, dynamic scenario, Edge of Tomorrow is also Cruise's most flattering recent vehicle. It feels like the first film in a long while that doesn't make an issue of the star's age. 

Cruise's tendency to overcompensate by running, jumping, climbing and flexing all over his recent films isn't even distracting in Edge of Tomorrow. You watch Cruise go through his paces as William Cage, an untested soldier who endlessly relives the same battle over and over again. Cage dies so many times, and in so many ways, that by the time he inevitably assumes his role as humanity's last hope, you believe Cruise has earned the right to walk on water.

Based on Hiroshi Sakurazaka's novel All You Need Is Kill, Edge of Tomorrow follows Cage's attempts to help humanity win a crucial D-Day-esque battle against the Mimics, a menacing-looking but otherwise generic group of alien invaders. Cage, formerly a news anchor, is killed in combat but gains the ability to (in his words) "restart the day" every time he dies. With the help of Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), a super-soldier who previously suffered from Cage's looper-itis, Cage uses his Sisyphean powers to stop the Mimics by locating and killing their queen-bee leader, the Omega. 

Cage is vulnerable, and put-upon in ways that Cruise's recent characters haven't been. He's essentially an everyman who becomes Superman, only he becomes stronger by suffering — a lot. He becomes invincible by getting hit by a truck, massacred by Mimics, and (repeatedly) shot in the head. This may seem monotonous, but director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Jumper) and screenwriters Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth do a good job of alternately letting Cruise look like a comically omniscient badass and punishing him by making him cower or explain himself to blinkered, disbelieving supporting characters. The latter is especially funny whenever Cage has to explain himself to Major Sergeant Farell (Bill Paxton), a stubborn commanding officer Cage mistakenly tries to reason with a couple dozen times. Paxton's deliriously goony leer is almost charming enough to steal scenes from Cruise.

But only "almost." At the end of the day, Edge of Tomorrow is Cruise's show — the first of his recent action films that doesn't feel like an impressive vanity project. This is thanks in no small part to Liman's superb action direction. Liman makes you feel like you're vicariously experiencing Cage's nightmare, especially during his first exposure to combat. Modeled on Saving Private Ryan's Omaha Beach sequence, this introductory fight scene is viscerally upsetting. But Liman's use of hand-held photography only serves to complement the battle's already vivid choreography. It's the most upsetting fight scene in a PG-13-rated film in recent memory. It's also a great example of Cruise's versatility. Here's a real star, one who proves his indomitable charisma just by futzing with his battle suit's controls. Long may Cruise reign.

Email arts@nashvillescene.com.

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