In a time when endless franchising and reboots hype new chapters as compelling continuations of a familiar narrative, director Doug Liman, along with Edge of Tomorrow’s three credited screenwriters, takes these trends to an absurdist, though logical, conclusion, by placing Major Bill Cage (Tom Cruise) in a loop of continuous battle sequences, numbing exposition, and generic alien invaders. There’s an almost Kafkaesque kick-off, as Cage is informed by General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) that he’ll be joining the frontlines of an impending invasion. Cage protests and Brigham has him arrested and sent to a local military barracks overseen by Master Sergeant Farell (Bill Paxton). Even here, Cage’s insistence that he’s an officer gains little purchase, as he’s unwillingly forced into quarters with the grunts, crammed into a drop ship wearing 100 pounds of armor, and deployed into a warzone that bears conspicuous resemblance to the Battle of Normandy, except with large, amorphous aliens as the foe. Cage spots Rita (Emily Blunt) on the battlefield, a sword-wielding war hero known to other troops as the “Angel of Verdun.” Amid the chaos, Rita is killed, and Cage’s face is melted by an acid blood which, we’re told shortly after his inexplicable awakening, allows him to continually reset and relive the battle’s events, altering its outcome.
Edge of Tomorrow dumps its exposition front and center, using the details as a mere pretense to engage a meta-level inquiry regarding the function of narrative in contemporary blockbusters. Cage’s relief at having survived the initial battle is soon met with reluctance at having to tediously wade through the well-worn events of the same day, which operates as a clear stand-in for the franchise template. Small details start to lose relevance, as when Cage predicts and recites impending orders from Farell, much to his defeated chagrin. In hindsight, all of the initial specifics are rendered as arbitrary puzzle pieces, forms of rhetoric that merely disguise the banality and lifelessness of dogmatic conviction, whether it be of a nationalist or capitalistic order. Liman plays these moments with a tinge of solemnity, but he’s largely thrilled by his own narrative’s refusal to simply play the game of large-scale filmmaking, which takes shape in the quick, repetitive sequencing of Cage’s live-die-repeat endeavors.
Liman isn’t simply rejecting such modes of filmmaking, but he’s disinterested in detail-oriented world-building, where formative, driving character motivations are an end in themselves. He uses the film’s premise against itself, wearing down any sense of expository propulsion by whittling Cage’s plight to an affective, existential joie de vivre, where the prospect of death is, paradoxically, the prospect of life. Make no mistake, Liman is using the character’s plight to question how knowledge through repetition only works if said knowledge ultimately breaks from the previous mold. Thus, when Cage eventually contemplates living through the day, as a relinquishment of his power, we should understand a correlative assessment of how big-budget filmmaking has placed itself in a similar, despondent predicament.
Thus, Liman short-circuits these problems through an array of spirited genre elements, perhaps most suitably allowing Cruise and Blunt to enter screwball terrain during an extended training sequence that consistently ends with Blunt putting a bullet in his brain. Liman plays this purely for its pop pleasures, harnessing the physical charisma and chemistry of his stars to ends that engage the characters’ mutual sexual attraction, with each trying to one-up the other by proving their worth. Liman locates the gendered edge of Howard Hawks’s I Was a Male War Bride while preferring the high-intensity combat of Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan. Yet he isn’t simply pastiching genres, but slyly gesturing toward them; his film isn’t alluding to them explicitly, but appears informed by them through sensibility, while utilizing a sci-fi narrative and digital technologies to formulate a dual-function genre entry that’s part critique, part pulp.
The pulp, then, comes in the film’s final third, which largely dispenses with its self-reflexive excursions by bringing the grunts from the first third back into the equation, and homing in on a camaraderie of difference that bridges gender, race, and class to take down the still faceless and unremarkable aliens. Alien anonymity is largely the point; they’re placeholder villains, since it’s the human faces that matter for Liman, whose focus largely remains on the corporeality of his cinematic brigade. Although the final result isn’t quite perfect in its resolve to break from no-end-in-sight franchising, Edge of Tomorrow embodies this past summer’s most playful, innovative approach to rock-’em, sock-’em filmmaking.
Warner Bros. has struggled to market Edge of Tomorrow with a high-level of efficiency, to the extent that they’ve attempted to rebrand the film as Live. Die. Repeat., as evidenced from the Blu-ray’s cover. Nevertheless, they’ve given the film an immaculate audio-visual presentation. Colors are balanced and bright, while the final dark, cave battle is still über-crisp in making out faces and small details. Whether in more quiet dialogue scenes or large-scale warfare, one couldn’t ask for a more faithful rendering. The same goes for the film’s sound, which booms with explosions, gunfire, and Christophe Beck’s superb score, but retains balance and clarity whether Cruise is protesting his innocence or being told "on your feet, maggot!"
The only notable featurette is a 42-minute gem titled "On the Edge with Doug Liman," which explains much of his multi-faceted approach to bringing such an expansive narrative to life. Liman appears to still be a filmmaker committed to indie principles, such that he shot certain sequences of the film without a completed script, even workshopping parts of script while in production, to see if the script jibed with what had already been shot. Moreover, cast and crew explain Liman’s disinterest in sci-fi narratives, which could help explain why his film largely treats those elements as inessential. There are numerous moments of him directing actors, but a significant focus is devoted to his relationship with Tom Cruise in pre-production and on set, with the pair playfully sparing and competing to motivate one another. Two other, brief featurettes add little insight beyond minor production mentalities and the disc rounds out with a handful of inessential deleted scenes.
Edge of Tomorrow is an intelligent, self-reflexive summer blockbuster with an eye for castigating proliferate franchise mentalities, and Warner Home Video has provided a fantastic Blu-ray transfer to relish the film’s amusingly irreverent flair.