Edge of Tomorrow Made the Time-Loop So Stupid it was Brilliant
Sometimes you just want to watch Tom Cruise level up.
Live. Die. Repeat. That was the title Doug Liman wanted for the 2014 sci-fi movie Edge of Tomorrow, based on Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s novel All You Need Is Kill. The film is an interesting study of the question of whether titles matter. Edge of Tomorrow is not particularly memorable, but it’s hard to say if the two other titles would have worked any better. Warner Bros. must have thought so: they elevated Live. Die. Repeat. from tagline to title on the home media release.
Regardless of the innocuous-sounding name, Edge of Tomorrow is a memorable sci-fi movie that revitalizes an ancient trope. It just hit HBO Max, and it’s worth another look for one specific reason: it’s the only contemporary sci-fi action movie that made time-loops seem brand new again.
Edge of Tomorrow stars Tom Cruise as William Cage and Emily Blunt as Rita Vrataski. She’s a war hero kicking alien ass. He’s a smarmy PR guy who works on ensuring the media feels good about a desperate battle being waged against alien invaders called Mimics. Cruise is a cowardly double-talker, and only by getting stuck in a time-loop does he become less of a douchebag. It’s Starship Troopers meets Groundhog Day.
Edge of Tomorrow is full of stock characters, cliche dialogue, and gaping plot holes. The alien Mimics don’t actually mimic anything, and given that they’re as mighty and unstoppable as the Decepticons from the Michael Bay Transformers movies, you’d be forgiven if you thought they looked like rejects from them.
Their invasion plan, meanwhile, feels borrowed from the playbook of a Doctor Who enemy. The Mimics use time-loops to determine the best way to take over a planet, and can therefore win every battle because they’ve already fought it multiple times. But their power to “reset the day” can be hijacked if you get their blood in your blood, which humanity learns by accident. Vrataski (Blunt) once had that power, but now Cage (Cruise) does. Throughout the course of one day repeated many times over, they have to 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 this is a very good and very fun sci-fi action movie. What makes Edge of Tomorrow work is twofold: the rules and stakes are explained early and clearly, and Tom Cruise starts off playing against type. These might seem like minor touches, but they’re huge. In an early speech from Vrataski’s ally Dr. Carter (Noah Taylor), the rules of the movie are laid out. The film gets a video game quality embedded in it, and you get that Cruise can keep dying until he figures out how to win. But this simple exposition smartly conceals a late twist: the Mimics are trying to trick the humans into giving them their time-loop power back.
This wrinkle is aided by the fact that Tom Cruise doesn’t begin the movie 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 hypothetical Battlestar Galactica draft dodger. What makes the movie compelling is that the audience is waiting for Cruise to start acting like Cruise. The screenplay was co-written by Cruise’s frequent Mission: Impossible collaborator, Christopher McQuarrie, but McQuarrie slows Cruise’s transition into an Ethan Hunt-level badass. Instead, we ignore how silly 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 only person who can help him. For some critics, this romance went too far and devalued Blunt’s performance. And while this may be true in terms of presenting ideal archetypes, Edge of Tomorrow has the same level of realism as Emily in Paris. If anything, the movie has a weird amount of restraint when it comes to the tacked-on love story.
Nothing about Edge of Tomorrow looks good on paper. It’s riddled with contradictions, and the messy ending may leave you wondering what exactly happened. And yet there’s a charming tone throughout. The movie isn’t using time travel to make you feel smart, or Tom Cruise to make you feel sophisticated. Edge of Tomorrow doesn’t pretend to be a smart or sophisticated movie. But it is an effective one.
Throughout the film, Emily Blunt wields an insanely 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 wish you’d seen her use it even more. It’s possible that the edge of Emily Blunt’s sword is where the purest enjoyment of movies exists: we can’t justify it intellectually, but damn if it doesn’t work.
Edge of Tomorrow is streaming on HBO Max.