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Tom Cruise as a soldier facing an unusual dilemma in ‘Edge of Tomorrow,’ at theaters in Pittsfield, Lanesborough and North Adams.

Who could have guessed that the first real blockbuster surprise of the summer would come in the guise of a Tom Cruise film? Especially one with a rather bland title -- "Edge of Tomorrow" (they might as well have just called it "Generic Summer Action Movie") -- that seems to go where every sci-fi movie has gone before. It’s all here: time travel, unreasonable aliens, the fate of a fearful world resting uneasily on the shoulders of one American man. And all in 3-D, of course.

Yet director Doug Liman ("The Bourne Identity," "Mr. and Mrs. Smith") manages to combine a sense of humor and an expert eye for action into a clever twist on old formulas. In a world of predictably lead-footed, empty-headed spectacle, "Edge of Tomorrow" is surprisingly agile and quick-witted.

Cruise is Cage, a ranking Army officer whose specialty is public relations and advertising. His job is to sell the war, not fight in it. He can’t even stand the sight of blood.

So when Gen. Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) orders him to embed with a unit in France that’s part of an all-out assault on the aliens who are called Mimics, Cage refuses and threatens to use his PR skills against Brigham in the equally important media war of public opinion.

As payback, Cage is arrested, busted down to private, identified as a deserter and thrown in with a squad that will be on the leading edge of the invasion. How’s that for a delicious slice of revenge pizza topped with a serving of don’t-mess-with-me?

In an astonishing sequence, Cage is dropped into France amid total chaos and catastrophe.


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Panicked and afraid, he’s useless as a soldier and is killed by an especially cantankerous, multitentacled Mimic.

But then he wakes up -- back in time, just after his arrest, with the invasion still a day away. What fresh hell is this? Is he doomed to repeat these same awful moments for eternity? And who is this mysterious super soldier, Rita (Emily Blunt), and her scientist sidekick (Noah Taylor), who seem to be clued in to what’s going on?

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Based on the novel "All You Need Is Kill" by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, "Edge of Tomorrow" is "Groundhog Day" with weaponry. But it’s effective as Liman (working from a script by Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth) keeps things moving fast enough that there’s no time to nitpick the implausibilities -- like forcing a totally untrained soldier into battle where his mistakes could get everyone killed except the enemy.

But Limon has fun with the time-shifting premise and makes an impressive use of 3-D technology. Meanwhile, Cruise -- in the beginning at least, when he’s not in implacable "Mission: Impossible" mode -- shows off some welcome vulnerability, and Bill Paxton seems to relish his role as Cage’s unforgiving commanding officer.

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"Edge of Tomorrow" isn’t as thought-provoking as the similarly plotted "Source Code," Duncan Jones’ 2011 film about a man forced to repeat a calamitous event until he gets the right outcome. Not only that, but "Edge" doesn’t end as well as it begins. And, to a paraphrase an old dictum: Directors who don’t learn from history -- like their hapless heroes in sci-fi movies -- are doomed to repeat it.

But, in Liman’s case, that has turned out to be not such a bad thing.

Rated PG-13 -- intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, strong language, brief suggestive material)