A funny thing happened at the multiplex this past summer. Tom Cruise toplined a flashy, expensive blockbuster called Edge of Tomorrow, filled with all manner of explosions, nasty aliens and time-travel shenanigans – and it opened not only low, but shockingly low. Where was the love for Cruise, once a highly bankable star? And the actor aside, why didn’t people come for the same kind of popcorn thrills that have made even obviously awful flicks like every Transformers so successful?
A lot of people blamed the forgettable and generic title, which is admittedly the film’s weakest facet. And though I’m sure the blame doesn’t rest solely there, Warner Bros. clearly felt strongly enough about it to “rebrand” the movie for home platforms. Hence, Edge of Tomorrow is now Live Die Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow.
Not that it matters a bit (and I’m going to keep using the original title for the purposes of this review). Doug Liman’s film, regardless of the title, is a rarity among tentpoles, and it’s a real shame most moviegoers never got to discover that this past summer. Because, in a startling break from action extravaganza tradition, Edge of Tomorrow actually possesses a brain big enough to offset its brawn.
The result is one of the most surprising action movies in a long while, a sci-fi head-scratcher that makes no secret of war’s brutal chaos and is much more concerned with exploring its own crazy ideas than dressing everything up nicely for the viewing public. A number of words could be used to fairly describe Edge of Tomorrow, frenetic and overlong among them, but the one that pops most readily to mind is refreshing.
Credit Liman and screenwriters Christopher McQuarrie, Jez and John-Henry Butterworth for having the gall to fully investigate their ambitious, time-travelling premise. To say too much about the crazy places Edge of Tomorrow goes would be to needlessly spoil the surprise, but imagine Groundhog Day mixed with The Matrix, and you’ll have a pretty good starting point.
Cruise plays against type (at least at first) as a skeezy PR puppet named William Cage, who is horrified to find himself faced with certain death during a deadly, ill-advised beach assault by human forces against deadly, octopi-like aliens called Mimics. Quickly, Cage is slaughtered by a Mimic, only to find himself waking up the day before the assault. Though initially baffled, Cage eventually realizes that, via exposure to a particular Mimic, he’s gained a remarkable skill – the ability to reset the clock. Enlisting the help of a decorated army veteran named Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), Cage goes back into the battlefield, dying every day but becoming a better soldier for it. Together, Cage and Vrataski attempt to turn the tide in an un-winnable war and take the fight back to the Mimics.
It seems that Cruise will perpetually be reminding us of his ability to carry an action movie, but Edge of Tomorrow may be one of his strongest showcases yet. As Cage, he’s alternately slippery, witty, appealing and heroic, and the masterful way in which the actor handles those personality shifts makes all of them feel natural. The real breakout star of the film, though, is Blunt, turning Vrataski into a tough-as-nails action hero for the ages who’s worthy of the nickname Full Metal Bitch. The typically reserved actress brings an incredible fire to her performance that should guarantee her a steady stream of leading roles in action fare like this.
The pair have the beginnings of some great chemistry, but Edge of Tomorrow mostly avoids romance, which wouldn’t have jived with its grimy, no-holds-barred story. Restraint isn’t a tool typically associated with blockbusters, but that’s just another way in which Liman and his screenwriters subvert expectations. Instead of succumbing to the typical Hollywood tropes of successively louder and more incoherent action, Edge of Tomorrow prioritizes its ideas.
Sure, the ending is way too tricky for its own good, so much so that it could make you forget the entertainment value of what came before it. However, it’s truly admirable that Edge of Tomorrow is more of a clever brain-bender than a Big Dumb Fun action movie. It gives you faith in the idea that intelligent filmmaking and popcorn entertainment don’t always have to be at odds.
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment really brought its A-game on the Blu-Ray for Edge of Tomorrow. The 1080p high definition transfer is crisp and filled with a dazzling level of detail throughout. Liman moves the camera ferociously through massive battle sequences, but the image never loses its clarity or gritty realism. Every cascade of dirt, every blade of grass, every bead of sweat is captured perfectly, with no noticeable instances of banding or any of the other transfer issues that sometimes bug major action pics like this. Edge of Tomorrow is such a visual spectacle that one wishes Warner Bros. had stumped up the cash for a 4K transfer, but what’s on offer here is still pretty stellar.
The 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track, however, is an absolute mammoth, coming in hot on the battlefield with a formidable mix of deafening explosions, crashing aircraft, bellowing soldiers and death-dealing aliens, all layered into an absorbing, immersive listen. Christopher Beck’s subtle score is well-implemented, but the real accomplishment is that the presentation of the many battle scenes, intense though they are, never collapses into confusion and disarray.
In terms of special features, the Edge of Tomorrow Blu-Ray (which includes a DVD and UV-compatible digital copy) offers:
- Storming the Beach (12 mins)
- Weapons of the Future (8 mins)
- Creatures Not of This World (6 mins)
- On the Edge with Doug Liman (43 mins)
- Deleted Scenes (8 mins)
The Adrenaline Cut that the Blu-Ray was advertised as including is found in “Storming the Beach,” and it’s basically just an alternate version of one of the Operation Downfall sequences with more furious action. I wouldn’t exactly call it an improvement over what’s in the finished film, but the sequence is certainly worth checking out for fans of the movie. The rest of “Storming the Beach” discusses how the filmmakers approached the Normandy-inspired beach sequence and went about shooting it.
“Weapons of the Future” is all about the weapons and exo-suits worn by the soldiers in Edge of Tomorrow, the challenges of putting actors in such heavy equipment and how stunts were adjusted to accomodate the bulky costuming. There’s also a fairly interesting discussion of the special effects work done to make the exo-suits appear realistic. “Creatures Not of This World” takes a similar approach to discussing the Mimics, covering their unique appearance, role in the movie as villains and intentional air of mystery.
The major find in this collection of special features is a 43-minute making-of documentary called “On the Edge with Doug Liman.” The director proves to be an engaging and extremely passionate host, and little of what he says appears to be scripted. Liman is candid about the struggles of making the film, the ways in which he and his cast and crew were forced to improvise (the film started production without a finished script, for example) and how he ensured that his vision was carried out. The visuals, costuming, performances, cinematography, tone, structure and themes are all touched upon, and the entire doc is packaged in a clean, enjoyable manner.
Finally, there are some deleted scenes, seven in total, tossed in the mix, though nothing is particularly crucial. Most of the scenes are slight variations on footage that made it into the final cut or extraneous snippets that stretch out scenes for a couple more minutes.
With its big, bruising video and audio transfer, the Edge of Tomorrow Blu-Ray is the best way to experience this action-packed flick. And though it’s not a perfect film, especially in its surprisingly flat finale and frustrating ending, what Edge of Tomorrow offers in spades is a blend of intelligence and originality that’s rare to see from a summer blockbuster. Cruise and Blunt are both fantastic, and when there’s so much good stuff on screen, it’s easy to forgive the film its occasional weaknesses. Don’t let the lame names fool you – Edge of Tomorrow, Live Die Repeat, whatever you want to call it, give the film a try. And don’t be surprised if you find yourself coming back for repeat viewings.