Live, Die, Repeat (or, Edge Of Tomorrow) (Doug Liman, 2014) – It’s been a while since there’s been reason to get excited about a Tom Cruise movie. Though his last decade included the underrated War of the Worlds and the wonderfully goofy Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, good Tom Cruise movies have become the exception and not the rule. Thankfully, Doug Liman (a man in need of a comeback himself) has delivered the smiling star’s best film in a damn long time and all he needed to do was kill Cruise over and over and over and over…
On the surface, there’s nothing hugely original about Edge of Tomorrow. I think it’s still called that anyways. The Blu-ray box shoves that title to the bottom and highlights Live, Die, Repeat instead. A better title to be sure, but a weird way to remarket the movie on home video. Kind of unprecedented as well. Hopefully it works.
The movie is essentially Groundhog Day meets Aliens filtered through post-Matrix anime influenced production design. The trailers and posters all suggested another dull and personality free Cruise-fed sci-fi blockbuster along the lines of last year’s abysmal Oblivion. Yet, while notoriously flighty director Doug Liman’s new movie might not be particularly original, it’s so creative in how it explores its central pitch-worthy premise that it plays like gangbusters. Unlike the generic and wisely changed title, Edge of Tomorrow is a witty and delightfully self-conscious trip through blockbuster tropes that never reinvents the wheel, but at least makes you feel as though you haven’t seen the wheel a bazillion times before.
The film kicks off with an alien invasion that has claimed most of Europe. Through a flurry of news reports, it becomes clear the grunts vs. beasts war has apocalyptic potential and smilin’ Tom Cruise stars as man in a well pressed uniform assigned to go on TV and convince young folks to sign up for their inevitable death. Then just before humanity’s last big push, a no-BS general (played with the crabby grace only Brendan Gleeson could provide) insists that Cruise join the front line. Given that pretty boy Cruise is a talker not a fighter, he tries to negotiate and then blackmail his way out of combat, before being knocked out and waking up on the front lines. A snarling Bill Paxton shoves him into a dirty unit of killers despite being woefully unprepared and he catches a glimpse of Emily Blunt’s robo-suit enhanced alien killing machine lovingly known as the “Full Metal Bitch” before promptly dying on the battlefield at the hands of an alien slimeball.
Then things get interesting. Cruise wakes up just before battle once more and lives through the exact same day again and then again a la Groundhog Day. Eventually Blunt discovers Cruise’s plight and it turns out that she’s been through the exact same experience in a previous battle, which is what transformed her into a coldhearted killing machine in the first place. It’s all tied into the alien race they’re fighting, who are so difficult to kill because their leader can control time and constantly resets battles until they defeat their villains flawlessly. By getting dosed in one of those special alien’s blood before death, Cruise now has that power and over an unspecified series of repeated days gradually transforms himself into a killing machine. There’s an interesting parallel to videogames there, with Cruise becoming the unstoppable action star that we all know from countless genre movies by dying repeatedly and learning how to defeat his enemies through pattern recognition.The repeated conceit also allows Liman to have big heaping piles of fun as a filmmaker. There’s an element of slapstick Looney Tunes violence to Cruise’s repeated deaths that is not lost on the director. He milks it for all sorts of comedy and editing effect potential. And yet, what makes the movie really stick is how no one ever loses sight of the tragedy of the situation. Every time Tom jumps awake, you can feel his pain and the best passages of the script (pulled together by a team of writers including Birthday Girl’s Jez Butterworth and The Usual Suspect’s Christopher McQuarrie) set up scenes where the audience is unaware of just how many times Cruise has played out this same scenario. In particular, a sequence involving Cruise with particularly pained sunken eyes, Blunt, and a helicopter offers a genuinely moving moment at the center of a big, thrilling, and wonderfully silly popcorn picture.
Eventually, the repeating-day-scenario is ditched for a third act of world saving heroism and the movie is less interesting for it. That’s not the same as saying it’s bad of course. Liman shoots his action from the ground level center of the carnage as he did in The Bourne Identity and delivers the requisite thrills required from this sort of movie. The trouble is that it all pulls Edge of Tomorrow back into a conventional comfort zone after about an hour of genuinely creative blockbuster filmmaking. Still, complaining about a summer movie having a happy ending is about as pointless as claiming that a horror movie is too scary. That’s just part of the ride and by all accounts everyone involved has delivered wonderful work. For Liman, it’s easily his tightest and most effective movie in a decade. For McQuarrie it’s his most satisfying script since that one with the big Kevin Spacey twist. For the character actors like Gleeson and Bill Paxton, it’s a chance for winking tributes to past performances. For Blunt, it’s an unexpectedly effective badass action chick addition to a delightfully eclectic and impressive resume. And for Cruise, it’s an ideal star vehicle that delivers everything audiences want from his genre work while also adding in layers of comedy, tragedy, and unique acting challenges inherent in the repeating scene structure. In short, this is top tier popcorn filmmaking, easily one of the best movies of the summer that deserved far more audience attention. Hopefully that’ll come at home and with a far more appropriate title.
The Blu-ray certainly is spectacular, which should help. Video and audio have been spiffed up with a degree of care that Warner Brothers have come to specialize in. Their Godzilla disc is now one of the best home theater showpiece discs on the market and Edge of Tomorrow isn’t far behind, boasting gorgeous HD visuals and one hell of a rocking soundtrack. When the movie’s done there’s even a nice spread of special features. Things kick off when a 9 minute behind-the-scenes featurette helmed by Liman himself, complete with an “Adrenaline Cut” of the Operation Downfall sequence that lives up to the title. Next up come a pair of less than ten minute featurettes about the weapons and aliens that might have you worrying this will be another Blu-ray stocked only with promo pieces. Thankfully, there’s also a pretty damn fantastic 43 minute documentary about the film’s production filled with anecdotes, details, and behind the scenes footage that showcases what made this production special in style (unfortunately, there’s none of the nutty Liman-as-pscyho-taskmaster talk from so many of the pre-release interviews, but you can’t have everything, I s’pose). Toss in a handful of deleted scenes and you’ve got a pretty damn nice Blu-ray set for this blockbuster with a brain. If you missed Edge of Tomorrow in theaters, be sure to check out Live, Die, Repeat immediately. You’ll be surprised by how much you like it and with a little luck the flick has a mild cult status ahead of it. (Phil Brown)