‘Edge of Tomorrow’ makes the most of repeatedly killing Tom Cruise

Earth has been invaded by space aliens, and Europe is already lost. Though no combat veteran, Major Bill Cage (Tom Cruise) is thrust into a kind of second D-Day landing on the beaches of France, where he is promptly killed in battle.

Yes, 15 minutes into the movie Tom Cruise is dead — but this presents no special problem for “Edge of Tomorrow.” In fact it’s crucial to the plot.

The sci-fi hook of this movie, adapted from a novel by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, is that during this demise Cage has absorbed alien blood that makes him time-jump back to the day before the invasion. He keeps getting killed, but each time he wakes up he learns a little more about how to fight the aliens and how to keep a combat hero (Emily Blunt) alive.

It might sound laborious, and the inevitable comparisons to “Groundhog Day” are not far off the mark. But the script, adapted by Christopher McQuarrie and the sibling team of Jez and John-Henry Butterworth, is actually ingenious in doling out its herky-jerky storytelling.

The farther Cage gets in his progress, the more possible outcomes we see (there are dead ends along the way). Sometimes we’re not sure whether a given scene is being experienced for the first time, until Cage quotes someone else’s dialogue before they say it, or wearily dodges a fistfight he’s already encountered countless times.

It must be said here that Cruise plays this exactly right: You can see his exhaustion and impatience with certain scenes even when it’s our first time viewing them. Oh, yeah; he’s been here before.

There’s absurdity built in to this lunatic set-up, and director Doug Liman — he did the first “Bourne” picture — understands the humor of a guy who repeatedly gets killed for the good of mankind. Cage has to explain his predicament quite a few times, to a skeptical general (Brendan Gleeson) or brainy scientist (Noah Taylor), yet the movie’s figured out just how often to do that without killing the idea.

I could live without Liman’s shaky camera, which is especially annoying in 3-D. But overall, the movie works. And there are just enough unusual moments to create some actual resonance within the hardware-heavy treatment.

During one trip Cage simply walks away from yet another go-round of training and dying, ducking out on his umpteenth beach landing and instead sitting for a quiet beer at an English pub. Maybe there’s some way of shirking his huge responsibilities — a rare moment of stillness. But then the war comes roaring in, and death is inevitable. Again.

“Edge of Tomorrow” (three and a half stars)

Alien-fighter Tom Cruise keeps re-living the same day (after being repeatedly killed in battle) as he tries to learn how to defeat the invaders. Doug Liman’s film does an ingenious job of making this repetitive premise stay alive, and Cruise plays it to the hilt. Emily Blunt co-stars.

Rating: PG-13, for violence, language

Opens: Friday at Alderwood Mall, Cinebarre Mountlake Terrace, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Stanwood, Meridian, Thorton Place Stadium, Woodinville, Cascade Mall, Oak Harbor Plaza.

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