Review: Live. Die. Repeat./Edge Of Tomorrow

Live. Die. Repeat./Edge Of Tomorrow

Trailer

He dies over and over and over...

He dies over and over and over…

So, this film, based off a Japanese manga, was a box office flop for Warner Brothers, which had such a poor reaction in test screenings that it had its promotional budget slashed in the US, with some re-titling work desperately trying to get any kind of profit out of it in Europe and beyond. After hearing positive things from a few trusted sources, I decided to give All You Need Is Kill/Edge Of Tomorrow/Live. Die. Repeat./ Too Many Titles a shot on DVD as a late addition to my 2014 movie list. Was the films financial fate deserved, or was it, as so many thought, an underappreciated classic?

In the not too distant future, allied forces prepare a gigantic all or nothing invasion of Europe, occupied by alien forces dubbed “Mimics”.  Public affairs officer William Cage (Tom Cruise) tries to blackmail his way out of a trip to the frontlines, but soon finds himself arrested, stripped of his rank, placed in a unit at the forefront of the invasion, and then killed by one of the alien creatures, before suddenly waking up exactly 24 hours earlier. Caught in a never ending loop of death and resurrection, he seeks out the help of Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), a soldier who previously went through the same experience. Together, the two live the same day over and over, trying to fight the perfect battle and end the Mimic threat.

I was legitimately surprised by how much I enjoyed this film. It’s an oddly successful melding of various influences, a case of Groundhog Day meeting Saving Private Ryan meeting Battle: LA, to produce a sci-fi action film that is very satisfying, with incredible action and decent character journeys. Obviously it’s the time loop element that is at the forefront, and this cudgel is used to the best extent possible – the idea of having to fight the same battle over and over again, all the time trying to follow an umpteen amount of steps to navigate to a successful conclusion, is introduced and elaborated upon brilliantly by director Doug Liman, in repeated glimpses of that terrible beach battle that never once stray towards boredom. Edge Of Tomorrow works as a half-decent war film too, in a way that Battle: LA just didn’t: this film actually manages to say something truly effective about humanity and war, which is that even the most unlikely people can learn to become effective warriors, given an extreme enough situation.

Cage is one of Cruise’s best characters in years. He starts off as a cowardly, hopeless incompetent, who really has no place in a military uniform. Through his infection with Mimic blood, he gains the opportunity – or the curse – of having the means to alter that. In fact, he doesn’t have a choice, and one of Live. Die. Repeat’s great aspects is seeing how Cage changes through his experience, going from a panicked piece of cannon fodder, to a man desperate to save Rita, to a military veteran utterly deadened to the destruction around him.

And Edge Of Tomorrow gets to have its fun and games. Everyone who wanted to see Tom Cruise killed over and over again in increasingly bizarre ways will get their fill here, along with the usual macabre humour you associate with plots of this nature, such as the way Rita repeatedly kills Cage when he injures himself during their training. But when Edge Of Tomorrow wants to get a bit more serious, it does, as a simple but worthwhile attraction is forged between Cage and Rita, magnified by the fact that she keeps dying in front of Cruise’s character. But, for the most part, the film holds off on a more traditional love story, with nothing like the insipidness of Oblivion seeping in.

Live. Die. Repeat stays true to the premise it presents –surprisingly logical and consistent – and gives some time to a small amount of entertaining supporting characters, most notably Bill Paxton’s gruff sergeant and the eccentric members of the squad Cage is press ganged into. And that all leads to a well-crafted conclusion, though some elements of it regarding Cage’s and Rita’s relationship might be seen as a detraction from what has come before. See below for more in-depth discussion.

I genuinely think this is one of Cruise’s best films in years. He seems to have settled for action roles of varying genre recently, ones that are more often miss than hit. But here Cruise actually gets to do something relatively unique for him: play someone who isn’t a hero, or at least does not start out like that in any way, shape or form. Cage is a total yellow belly, doing everything he can to get out of combat, and only reluctantly accepting the mantle that has been supplied for him. Some of Cruise’s best scenes are at the beginning, as he cowardly tries to escape a trip to the frontlines. Yes, he brings out the more classic kind of grim set action hero performance he is used to later on, but Cage is full of an emotive enthusiasm that I really haven’t seen from Cruise for a long time.

One of the best aspects of the film is Emily Blunt's Rita.

One of the best aspects of the film is Emily Blunt’s Rita.

He’s matched by Emily Blunt’s Rita, one of the better female characters and performances in this genre that I have seen recently. Rita is a proper hero – the kind of person that Cage needs to become, but who is a million miles away from as the film begins. She’s ruthless and uncompromising, but over time begins to let a light shine on her more hidden vulnerabilities, such as previous heartache and a guilt over a key failure earlier in her career. Blunt imbues her with that mix of strength and weakness, a well-rounded character that is a depressing rarity, still, in this day and age.

The rest are more bit players, but still have plenty to offer. Paxton’s Sergeant is straight from R. Lee Ermey school, but is tremendously entertaining. Noah Taylor is decent as a scientists who helps Cage and Rota. Brendan Gleeson pops up as the leader of the “UDF” military, in a slightly sleepwalked part. And Jonas Armstrong, Dragomir Mrsic, and Charlotte Riley are just some of the zany, manic characters in F Squad.

Visually, the film is great, with Liman proving adept behind the camera, essentially having to shoot several different films styles at once. The oft-repeated beach battle scene is recreated over and over, but never appears boring or hum-drum even the last time you watch it unfold, probably due to the opportunity to pique the audiences’ interest by showing how Cage could change things everytime he went though the loop. The actual CGI for these moments is also of a fairly high standard be it in the mechanised suits the soldiers wear, or in the Mimic enemy, weird tentacled creatures that actually look alien. And there is lots to admire with them, not least the numerous shots of Cage about to be killed, most notably as the Mimics swarm through London during one sequence. The script isn’t really a major stand-out, save for a couple of really memorable lines here and there, but it gets the job done when it comes to giving the two central characters distinctive voices to go with the decent characterisation. Christophe Beck’s score is just about what you would expect for this generation, with lots of booming motifs and twangy synth to go along with the alien battles, something that proves an ideal accompaniment without ever threatening to become anything more.

Some brief spoiler talk follows.

-Yeah, that romance plot could be better. For the most part it’s well laid out, the idea that Cage is falling for Rita more and more even as he keeps having to explain all that they have shared every time the day resets. But it didn’t really need the more overt romantic ending, with the kiss, to be effective. The final shot of the film, one of the strongest of the whole production, would have sufficed in making the point.

-Yeah, Brendan Gleeson is in this, which was a surprise to me. Is he a British general? Irish? Either way, it’s a somewhat flat performance from Gleeson, like he was just picking up a paycheck after the much more evocative work he did in Calvary.

-I think one of the great aspects of this plot trope is the idea of having a person trapped in the loop for so long that it starts to become unimaginable. Edge Of Tomorrow wisely lets the audience form their own conclusion on that score, but it is clear that Gage has been trapped for a very long time, maybe years, maybe decades. I’m remembering some of the cut material from Groundhog Day, where Bill Murray’s character is implied to have been trapped for millennia.

-The ending, in Paris, is more traditional sci-fi action fare, especially with the way the squad dies, one by one, usually doing something heroic. I’m not sure how Edge Of Tomorrow could have better integrated the central premise with its ending though.

-The best parts of this film are how Cage changes as time goes on, best exemplified by a moment early in the battle, when a fellow squad member gets crushed by a crashing plane. At first Cage tries to save him and fails. Then he succeeds, making the rescue a recurring part of the loop. But then, tired, frustrated and losing his mind, Cage just stops caring, and lets the soldier get crushed, not even flinching from the debris thrown up. It’s a great use of simple visual sources to illustrate the mindset of Cage.

Spoilers end.

Edge Of Tomorrow deserved a bit better than it got. I think it’s a really fun, well thought out science fiction action movie, where Tom Cruise is doing the business and Emily Blunt proves herself capable alongside him. The effects are great, the script is solid, and as much is made out of the central premise as there can be. I’m not really sure why this died a death as much as it did. Some sort of Cruise backlash, or are American audiences simply turned off by this kind of plot now (or by sci-fi action in general)? Either way, there was a bit of an injustice here. Live. Die. Repeat is good enough to justify a much larger audience than it was able to suck in, but I hope that history views it a bit more kindly. Recommended.

A great bit of sci-fi action.

A great bit of sci-fi action.

(All images are copyright of Warner Bros. Productions).

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