***/**** Image A Sound A+ Extras B+
starring Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton, Brendan Gleeson
screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie and Jez Butterworth & John-Henry Butterworth, based on the graphic novel All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka
directed by Doug Liman
by Angelo Muredda Whatever one thinks of his weaselly insouciance as a performer, it's hard to argue against Tom Cruise's record of choosing solid collaborators to bring a certain kind of high-concept amuse-bouche to life. From Joseph Kosinski's Oblivion, a derivative film about derivatives, to the more or less solid auteurist permutations of the Mission: Impossible franchise, the results have varied, but Cruise's reputation as the sort of star who can get moderately interesting pulp bankrolled and realized by moderately interesting talents has deservedly persisted. So we arrive at Edge of Tomorrow, Doug Liman's first kick at the Cruise can--a clever, fleetly-paced sci-fi riff on Groundhog Day with all the paradoxes of Duncan Jones's structurally similar Source Code but a more playful demeanour.
Cruise plays Major Bill Cage, an ad man turned military spin doctor tasked with reassuring the public about humanity's war effort against a fleet of squid-like invading baddies dubbed "Mimics," on account of their ability to anticipate and subvert virtually any strategy used against them. Summoned from his cushy job as an American media pundit to the humans' base at Heathrow, Cage is tasked by crusty superior General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) with heading to the frontline to document the newest skirmish, an effort to liberate the beaches of France on the heels of a surprise win at Verdun, achieved (we think) thanks to the soldiers' new mech technology as well as the formidable Mimic kill count of war hero Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt). Cage opts out, only to be branded a deserter, busted down to private status, and dropped into the battalion's infantry squad. Outfitted with his new robot prosthetic, he parachutes to almost instant death, only to promptly wake up back at the barracks, Bill Murray-like, in time to relive his traumatic yesterday.
Bill Paxton's presence as Cage's ideology-spewing new Master Sergeant seems meant to align Edge of Tomorrow with Aliens on some level, if not to suggest a dystopia where the dim-bulbed Private Hudsons of the world now ceaselessly march their impressionable troops into the maw of the enemy. For a while, that light satire of roughneck culture's minor rebellions, mind-numbing repetitions, and weak delusions of glory--what better way to die than for one's planet, and on a beach?--gives the movie a welcome edge, though one senses Liman's interests lie elsewhere, considering the fuzziness of the critique; after all, Cage's development happens precisely through his gruntlike repetition of basic tasks. Indeed, once the time-loop conceit gets cooking, Edge of Tomorrow reveals itself as something more modest, and assuredly so: a lean quest narrative about an egomaniac's gradual shedding of himself and resultant evolution into a pure instrument for the Cause--dying over and over again so that he might inch his way closer to mastering the system he's in.
If that sounds a bit like watching someone work through a video game in order to write a comprehensive walkthrough of it, that's presumably the point. Everything from the mech-vs.-mega creature battles to the sequences of brow-furrowed war-room strategizing and training tutorials run by Rita, whose warrior chops have a lot to do with her having just made it out of her own time loop, has the tenor of a prolonged gaming session. The danger with cloning the gaming experience minus its participatory appeal, of course, is that it's rarely fun to watch someone troubleshoot for very long. Liman overcomes this deficit by resetting our expectations of Cruise, who's reduced in the first scenes with his poorly-calibrated robot-suit to the equivalent of a new wheelchair user nervously careening through an inaccessible war zone--pot holes, sand traps, and all. Hoary as the training montages with Blunt are, there's something uniquely perverse about watching Cruise learn basic survival skills in his new skin, given his typical projection of obnoxious cool.
Although its overwhelming logic is hence from video games--"I've never made it this far," Cage tells his followers at one point, when asked what comes next--Edge of Tomorrow works best as a gleeful riff on the narrative tricks endemic to the cinema, an art defined more by editing than by images. Working from a patchy script that alternates between overcomplicated and thin (the time loop is explained in the most mundane details, and is no less daft for it), Liman makes the most out of a concept that allows him to patch over a dearth of story with mordantly funny trial-and-error montages of Cage meeting his fate a dozen different ways. The repetitive nature of Cage's mission conversely allows Liman to jettison the tedious exposition we might have been saddled with, writing it off as lessons learned in prior efforts, too numerous to show. Sometimes that shorthand feels like a cheat. Mostly, though, it feels like the inventive solution of a director liberated by rather than chained to his big idea. Originally published: June 6, 2014.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
by Bill Chambers First things first: While Warner has made every effort to rebrand Edge of Tomorrow within the packaging of its Blu-ray release, its title has not been changed to Live Die Repeat on screen, though who knows how far they'll take this campaign? I'd be surprised if "Edge of Tomorrow" isn't fully turfed once the movie's in regular rotation on TBS, so get it while it's hot. And it is hot, this disc, thanks to a phenomenal A/V transfer and a refreshingly blunt director profile by Treva Wurmfeld. "On the Edge with Doug Liman" (42 mins., HD) opens with Liman fresh off a particularly gruelling tennis lesson, telling the camera he's doing it to keep up with Tom Cruise. Later, actor Kick Gurry will recall with some resentment the shock of seeing Liman play tennis when Liman's schedule could not accommodate confabs with the cast. Liman clearly contains multitudes; Emily Blunt describes him as having "no ego but little tact," contributing to the sense I got that he probably falls somewhere on the autism spectrum. Liman comes across as driven but also tunnel-visioned and maddeningly impulsive--stunt coordinator Simon Crane, who's worked with him on three pictures now, calls him "the most frustrating man [he's] ever met, just because he changes his mind quite easily." And he's undoubtedly in a one-sided competition with Cruise (who volunteers to do seven-day work weeks and cuts down the amount of time between set-ups by encouraging everyone to run back to their starting positions instead of taking a golf cart), using those tennis lessons as a form of self-flagellation for suddenly not being the biggest workaholic on set. Still, he refused to don one of the heavy exosuits that Cruise and Blunt had to wear: "I didn't want to empathize with them on that level." A fascinating piece, even if it ends with Liman thanking a bunch of people like he's just won an Oscar.
The remaining supplements are considerably shorter and more business-as-usual. "Weapons of the Future" (8 mins., HD) takes a closer at those exosuits, which Blunt--who alternated between one made of metal and one made of fibreglass--likens to having a coffin strapped to your back. Cruise, of course, went the distance, keeping the suit on from morning 'til night and setting the record for getting into it the fastest of anyone (37 seconds). "Creatures Not of This World" (6 mins., HD) touts the reams of concept art that were produced for the film above any design achievements, while the umbrella heading "Operation Downfall" covers two featurettes, "Operation Downfall - Adrenaline Cut" (3 mins., HD) and "Storming the Beach" (9 mins., HD), the former of which cobbles together all the fatal missions from Edge of Tomorrow into one semi-successful one. "Storming the Beach" finds Liman flat out admitting he turned to Saving Private Ryan for inspiration in staging a Normandy-like invasion. (Crane happened to be the stunt coordinator on both films.) Bill Paxton cops to feeling mostly confused during the battle scenes; green body-suit stands-ins for the aliens were eventually added to the fray, but they look bizarrely ineffectual out there on the field. Rounding out the "shock and awesome" extras is an 8-minute block of eight Deleted Scenes, presented in HD and DD 5.1. Some are interesting for their glimpses of unfinished VFX (digital Tom Cruise is kind of uncanny), but only one enriches the material, as Cage asks Rita if the time-loop curse can be sexually transmitted.
Edge of Tomorrow itself is on board in a 2.40:1, 1080p transfer that shows film, i.e., 35mm, to still be a vital means of acquisition, despite being cured of its grain in the DI. Indeed, I'm somewhat surprised the filmmakers didn't latch on to a grainier aesthetic, and the colours are the usual digital bleach-bypass, but the image has an organic clarity as well as an expansive dynamic range, with detailed highlights and supple blacks. Thankfully, none of the dimness issues that plagued Warner's recent Godzilla are in evidence here. "Better" still is the attendant 7.1 DTS-HD MA track, an elegant reproduction of one of the best war-movie mixes since, yes, Saving Private Ryan. The rear channels are constantly active yet intricately discrete, never muddy-sounding no matter how hectic the action gets and never blotted out by the ample low-frequency effects. Dialogue is always audible amid the chaos but rarely comes across as boosted or post-synched. DVD and Ultraviolet copies of Edge of Tomorrow are included with purchase of the BD, which cues up with HiDef trailers for Fury Road and The Hobbit: Are We There Yet?.