Wander into Edge of Tomorrow this weekend and you should be able to empathize with William Cage, who wakes up every morning to re-experience the very same day.
Cage is played by Tom Cruise, star of more than a dozen blockbusters where one very determined dude is responsible for saving the world -- or a large chunk of it -- from aliens, vampires, criminals, Nazis, Soviets and, if you happened to suffer through Legend, goblins.
Movie-goers, meanwhile, are more than familiar with the concept of a protagonist plagued by a very literal case of déj vu.
In the beloved 1993 comedy Groundhog Day, Bill Murray lived the same 24 hours over and over again until Andie MacDowell decided he wasn't a creep anymore. In the far less lovable Source Code, released only three years ago, Jake Gyllenhaal is forced to die innumerable deaths before he can stop a bombing on a train.
You can imagine the studio pitch that allowed the $178-million Edge of Tomorrow to proceed went something like, "Hey, let's do Groundhog Day, only with the sentinels from The Matrix instead of a rodent, with the guy from War of the Worlds, who gets to fight aliens again AND tries to get the girl."
On paper, this sounds like a horrible, steaming pile of dreck. Yet director Doug Liman, whose curious resumé includes both Swingers and The Bourne Identity, manages to create a fast-paced summer blockbuster that makes up for its utter lack of originality with oodles of computer-generated 3D eye candy, a lot of humour and, most importantly, a tremendous amount of fun.
Cruise's Cage is a U.S. army officer who used to run a public-relations firm before a meteorite landed in Germany and started another European genocide.
If you're looking for a more subtle metaphor, maybe go see Godzilla.
Anyway, the meteorite carried alien creatures called Mimics, who look an awful lot like Matrix sentinels, mated with Transformers and blessed with the ability to predict human behaviour.
As Europe falls to the aliens, it becomes Cage's job to sell a worldwide-army enlistment effort on behalf of the United Defence Force, which somehow involves only 17 nations, even though humanity faces annihilation. Even in the movies, the United Nations can't seem to get it together.
The main recruitment tool at Cage's disposable is the image of Rita Vrataski, a warrior played by an ultra-chiselled Emily Blunt. Vrataski, remarkably, managed to kill 100 mimics during her first day on the battlefield, thanks to the metal exoskeleton from Starship Troopers, Elysium and the third Matrix movie.
But when no-nonsense British Gen. Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) sends Cage to the coast of France to film an attempt to retake Europe on behalf of humanity, the PR guy refuses.
He winds up getting shipped out to the battlefield as a grunt, dies on his very first day -- and wakes up waiting to be shipped out to the front again and again.
The bulk of Edge of Tomorrow is lifted directly from Groundhog Day: Cage lives and dies over and over as he tries to make sense out of what's happening to him and learns to be a better human being in the process.
He also gets to know Vrataski, who initially regards him with contempt, just like Andie MacDowell's Rita regarded Bill Murray's Phil. Cage finally wins over the object of his affection during a snowball fight with a bunch of a kids... no, wait... a battle to save the planet from the aliens.
Cage and Vrataski ultimately journey to Mount Doom to destroy the One Ring -- or rather, make their way to a European capital to exploit the omnipotent alien threat's one fatal weakness, conveniently revealed with the help of a deus ex machina.
Judged by the standards of hard science-fiction, there's no internal logic to Edge of Tomorrow. It's barely more intellectual than 1996's silly Independence Day. It also has the hubris to restage the invasion of Normandy and the arrogance of opening in theatres on the 70th anniversary of D-Day.
But none of this matters. Liman's action is well-paced and Cruise has a heck of a time bantering back and forth with Blunt, Gleeson and a master sergeant played by Bill Paxton, the only other actor who gets more than a handful of lines. Liman relies heavily on this very small core to carry a very large movie and they're more than up to the task.
It'd be nice to see Cruise go out on an action-movie high note with Tomorrow, but he's already signed on for more instalments of the Jack Reacher and Mission: Impossible franchises.
Same as it ever was; same as it ever was.