In theaters Friday, June 6
3 1/2 stars (out of 4 stars)
A breathless, brilliantly executed sci-fi pic that's also a total blast?
Well, it's about time. Literally.
Tom Cruise delivers his juiciest performance in eons as military PR hack William Cage. A professional talking head, his chief responsibility is to put a positive spin on the war against an alien race. Serve on the ground? No way. He can't stand the sight of blood, he tells the menacing general (Brendan Gleeson) who gives him the order. He can't even cope with a paper cut. Too bad: Cage is knocked out and shipped out.
He wakes up at base camp to the gentle sound of an officer barking to him, "On your feet, maggot!" Inexperienced and way out of his comfort zone, a visibly petrified Cage gets dropped into action the next day. For a few shining moments, he somehow manages to live and shoot an alien — who proceeds to bleed on him, killing them both instantly.
Only fellow warrior Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt, awesome) understands and can help. As she explains it, Cage has been infected with the alien's blood, which allows him to time loop. (She too had the power until a blood transfusion stripped her of it.) Her plan: Whip him into shape to be a soldier— if he gets injured during training, she shoots him with the same blasé manner as one flips a light switch — and then, after he's fully prepped, the two track down the controlling alpha alien and kill it.
The end game, by the way, is incidental; how Cage gets there is the cool part. Each time he opens his eyes, the film gets snappier and more clever. Like Phil the weatherman in Punxsutawney from the movie Groundhog Day, Cage re-runs the day with a knowing flair, using his sustained knowledge to his advantage. (He amazes his once-antagonistic comrades by rattling off personal facts about them, including the name of one soldier's second grade teacher.) He anticipates the beats of the base camp by heart, which allows him to sneak off ever day and meet [Rita] Vrataski for more target practice. If he's accidentally run over by a Humvee during one escape, no biggie: He can just re-boot. "On your feet, maggot!" is his "I Got You Babe."
The 51-year-old Cruise clearly relishes playing the flawed hero — one, who, at various points, gets to be smarmy, duplicitous, exasperated, intimidated, bad-ass and wise. (All these characteristics come to fruition in an exhilarating way when Cage marches into that general's office and shifts their power dynamic.) For her part, the surprisingly game Blunt more than ably fills out that bulking metal exoskeleton of a uniform. When did the dainty and tart first assistant from The Devil Wears Prada learn how to do Krav Maga arm planks?
This is how to make a crowd-pleasing and exciting summer movie. And, hey, director Doug Liman didn't even have to give his leading man a caped costume. Let's see it again!