NEW YORK (CNS) — The coward dies a thousand deaths, the brave but one.
That boiled-down version of a duo of lines from Shakespeare’s tragedy “Julius Caesar” — quoted in its more compact form by Ernest Hemmingway in his novel “A Farewell to Arms” — applies in spades to the protagonist of the intriguing sci-fi action epic “Edge of Tomorrow” (Warner Bros.).
In fact, thanks to this satisfying film’s central plot device, it’s hard to imagine that anyone has ever undergone the multiple demises due the lily-livered quite so literally.
The cringer in question is Army public relations officer Maj. William Cage (Tom Cruise). Even as Earth has suffered the devastating worldwide invasion by murderous aliens sketchily outlined for us by the opening scenes, Cage has kept to the sidelines. He’s more comfortable serving as a spokesman for the armed forces — on CNN, for instance — than fighting with them.
So when Gen. Brigham (Brendan Gleeson), the commander-in-chief of an impending D-Day-like attack designed to liberate continental Europe from its extraterrestrial occupiers, informs Cage that he’s going to be embedded with the frontline troops of the operation, Cage balks.
Insubordination gives way to a clumsy attempt to blackmail his superior, after which Cage finds himself arrested, summarily reduced to the ranks and placed as squarely in harm’s way as the lowliest recruit.
As if to confirm Cage’s worst fears, the vast assault quickly degenerates into a rout. But the unwilling warrior’s seemingly fatal encounter with the enemy has an amazing outcome. It results, not in death, but in his being caught up in a time warp within which he’s forced to live out the day preceding the doomed landing over and over again.
However often he’s killed — and with each repetition, the circumstances of his death vary — he always wakes up at precisely the same moment roughly 24 hours before.
Though initially baffled, Cage eventually makes contact with someone else who has experienced this weird phenomenon: skilled Special Forces operative — and celebrated war hero — Sgt. Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt).
Through being temporarily trapped in a similar chronological loop to Cage’s, Vrataski was able to foresee her adversaries’ battlefield actions, having witnessed them before. She used this windfall of intelligence to win a high-profile but temporary victory over the vicious creatures.
Now, she and an ever more confident Cage set out to deploy this same oddity to reverse humanity’s fading fortunes by scoring a permanent triumph over the intruders.
Cage’s unique path to courage follows a course Christian moviegoers will recognize as running parallel, for some stretches at least, to the ideal transformation believers are meant to undergo. Just as Cage is liberated from the fear of death by repeatedly going through it, and emerging from it, so Christ’s once-and-for all conquest of death is meant to set his followers free from its universal tyranny.
Despite repeated scenes of battlefield chaos, director Doug Liman’s 3-D adaptation of Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s teen-targeted novel “All You Need Is Kill” mostly shields viewers from gore.
The leads, meanwhile, are too distracted by their military mission to express their mutual attraction in any but the most restrained of ways. In fact, a single joking exchange aside, their relationship — marked, on both sides, by a spirit of self-sacrifice — might have featured in a movie from Hollywood’s golden age. Thus the brief kiss they share at a climactic moment packs quite an emotional wallop.
Only the salty language predictably exchanged between barracks mates really bars endorsement for a youthful audience.
The film contains pervasive action violence with minimal blood, a couple of uses of profanity, about a half-dozen crude and twice as many crass terms and a bit of sexual humor. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.