Judging the poster, Live Die Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow looks like a computer game – I wonder, is this the new state of cinema? The clunky, robotic military gear harks back to Total Recall or Starship Troopers – or, in games, Gears of War. Tom Cruise, last seen in similar dystopian-future film Oblivion, is Major Cage, a press-face for the military who suddenly finds himself on the front line of the fight against the alien. Emily Blunt, returning to time-travel films after Looper, is Rita, an outstanding soldier who knows what Cage is going through. In true Groundhog Day fashion, Cage wakes up every time he is killed to relive the final two days of an epic battle, and Rita is the key to his redemption and to saving planet Earth itself.
Located in London, Live Die Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow is initially a fish-out-of-water plot, fused with a socio-political edge. The charming, cheeky Major Cage is a high-ranking official who appears on TV but doesn’t fight himself. Confronted by General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson), he is ordered to serve alongside the troops in France (in an invasion modelled on the opening attack in Saving Private Ryan). Glibly, he refuses. He attempts to bribe the General too, only to wake up in make-shift army barracks on Heathrow’s airstrips. What begins as a subtle criticism of those in power lacking awareness of those on the front line is soon forgotten though, as the time-travel plot begins. Suddenly, the focus is primarily on Tom Cruise’s need to survive. It harks back to the socio-economical subtext of Elysium, which again, is forgotten about once one-man’s survival is at stake.
Outside of Cruise, the majority of roles are standard caricatures for a sci-fi/war genre film. Almost immediately after waking, we repetitively meet Master Sergeant Farrell (Bill Paxton), a Kentucky-born disciplinarian. Reciting lines of literature to rank himself amongst the hard-nuts of army officers in cinema, his approach is so stern as to direct gambling soldiers to preposterously eat their own playing-cards. Emily Blunt herself seems bland and lacks authority to truly support her ‘Angel of Verdun’ credibility. Against Ellen Ripley or Sarah Conner, the angel would have her wings clipped.
But (going by its cinematic title) Edge of Tomorrowis not aiming to showcase complicated characters, or make profound political points. In Gareth Evans’ The Raid, many noted the computer-game progression of the narrative. Level-by-level, working your way through the building, to the big-boss at the end. Edge of Tomorrow is the same, with “extra lives” and advanced weapons to make the stakes higher. Except some people (though not the target-market for this film perhaps) don’t play computer games – let alone play them for the nearly two-hour runtime of this film. For some the relentless action is too chaotic. The frustration with repeating a sequence can grate, while the more profound elements are left to the side for the sake of a plot-beat that keeps you engaged. Edge of Tomorrow does manage to showcase some breath-taking war-torn landscapes while the comedic-moments as Cruise plays with his time-travel skills are fun. But the story lacks the philosophical scope of The Matrix, and misses the political points of District 9. This is fun, goofy action, with a quirky unique-selling-point, but it can’t break free from the formulaic core at its centre. It feels like we’ve seen most of this before.
This post was originally written for Flickering Myth on 1st June 2014 and adjusted for the change of title when released on DVD/Bluray