Live. Die. Repeat. It was the title Doug Liman wanted for the 2014 sci-fi movie edge of tomorrowbased on Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s novel all you need is to kill. The film is an interesting study in whether titles matter. edge of tomorrow isn’t particularly memorable, but it’s hard to say whether the other two titles would have done better. Warner Bros. must have thought so: they raised Live. Die. Repeat. from slogan to headline on home press release.
Regardless of the innocuous-sounding name, edge of tomorrow is a memorable sci-fi film that revitalizes an old trope. It just dropped on HBO Max, and it’s worth rewatching for one reason: it’s the only contemporary sci-fi action movie that made time loops look like new again.
edge of tomorrow stars Tom Cruise as William Cage and Emily Blunt as Rita Vrataski. She’s a war hero who kicks an alien’s ass. He’s a smarmy PR guy who makes sure the media feels good about a desperate battle against alien invaders called Mimics. Cruise is a loose double-talker, and only by getting stuck in a time loop does he become less of a jerk. It is Starship Troopers meets groundhog day.
edge of tomorrow is full of stock characters, cliched dialogue, and gaping plot holes. The alien Mimics don’t imitate anything, and given that they’re as powerful and unstoppable as the Decepticons from the Michael Bay Transformers movies, you’d be forgiven if you thought they looked like throwbacks from them.
Their invasion plan, meanwhile, seems borrowed from a Doctor Who enemy. The Mimics use time loops to determine the best way to take over a planet, and therefore can win every battle as they have already fought it many times. But their power to “reset the day” can be misused if you get their blood in your blood, which humanity learns by accident. Vrataski (Blunt) once had this power, but now Cage (Cruise) has it. Over the course of a day repeated multiple times, they must figure out how to work together to save the world.
In a serialized TV series, these very specific time loop rules wouldn’t fly because they’re patently ridiculous. But it’s a very good and very fun sci-fi action movie. Which makes edge of tomorrow the work is twofold: the rules and stakes are explained early and clearly, and Tom Cruise begins to play against type. These may seem minor, but they are huge. In an opening speech by Vrataski’s ally Dr. Carter (Noah Taylor), the rules of the movie are laid out. The film incorporates a video game quality, and you understand that Cruise can keep dying until he figures out how to win. But that simple exposition cleverly hides a late twist: the Mimics attempt to trick humans into giving them back their time loop power.
This wrinkle is helped by the fact that Tom Cruise doesn’t start the film playing a Tom Cruise. Instead of kicking ass, he’s like Matthew McConaughey in How to lose a guy in 10 days combined with a hypothesis Battlestar Galactica refractory to the draft. What makes the film compelling is that audiences wait for Cruise to start acting like Cruise. The script was co-written by Cruise regulars Impossible mission collaborator, Christopher McQuarrie, but McQuarrie slows Cruise’s transition into an Ethan Hunt-level badass. Instead, we ignore how dumb these aliens are, because we’re too busy cheering as Cruise gets more Cruise-y to give them much thought.
Emily Blunt is a good foil for Cruise who, of course, falls in love with the one person who can help him. For some critics, this romance has gone too far and devalued Blunt’s performance. And while that may be true in terms of presentation ideal archetypes, edge of tomorrow has the same level of realism as Emily in Paris. If anything, the movie has an odd amount of restraint when it comes to nailing the love story.
Nothing about edge of tomorrow it looks good on paper. It’s riddled with contradictions, and the messy ending may leave you wondering what exactly happened. And yet, there is a charming tone throughout. The movie doesn’t use time travel to make you feel smart, or Tom Cruise to make you feel sophisticated. edge of tomorrow does not claim to be a clever or sophisticated film. But it is an effective.
Throughout the film, Emily Blunt wields a huge anime sword. This weapon seems impractical and unwieldy, and defies the logic of the fictional world in which it exists. And yet, it’s awesome, and when the movie is over, you would have liked to see her use it even more. It’s possible that the edge of Emily Blunt’s sword is where the movies’ purest fun exists: we can’t justify it intellectually, but damn it if it doesn’t work.
edge of tomorrow diffuse on HBO Max.