It’s a tough sell, this movie. Just the posters of Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt in futuristic armor — she’s got a samurai machete over her shoulder — seem suspect. But it’s much better than you might guess, especially during the first hour. For one, the sight of Tom Cruise as a sniveling, cowardly talking head is immediately gratifying. And director Doug Liman (Jumper) provides a breathtaking opening sequence that both challenges and rewards its viewers. In rapid bursts, we see news feeds from Europe highlighting the crash landing of an apparent asteroid and immediate onslaught of an alien invasion. The story cuts to Cruise as a slimy military spokesperson suddenly dragooned into an invasion force that self-consciously recalls the Normandy Steven Spielberg envisioned in Saving Private Ryan. Instead of Nazis, though, he’s battling wire whisk juggernaut thingies that hiss at you.
What happens next is a time loop tale that owes as much to video game structures as it does to Groundhog Day. For reasons better left obscure, Cage (Cruise) finds himself repeating and repeating the same battle scenario, learning in dinky painful increments. Once the structure of the plot becomes plain, though, the audience is left in the same numbed state Inception induced. It’s hard to feel much for protagonists who really can’t be destroyed.
But that doesn’t mean you won’t have fun. The script twists around like its aliens and it’s all visually arresting. A lot of the goods come from Emily Blunt, who plays a tough warrior, and Bill Paxton, who seems to be a mandatory casting whenever monsters meet the military. But the most interesting aspect of Edge is its implicit relationship to gaming; there are repeated battles, ascending worlds, and antiseptic violence. For decades, the smart kids’ guilty pleasure was comic books, which have already taken over movies completely. This film seems to signal video games as the new junk movie aesthetic principle. It’s too bad we don’t care what happens to Cruise, but it’s interesting we remain fascinated by all the places the film takes him.