Leaving a movie theater thoroughly entertained is usually rare. Or perhaps my opinionated tendencies have gotten the best of me. I’ve been let down more than often than not over the past few years, and it has cost me far too many buttered popcorn bowls. I can happily say, however, that 2014 hit the mark on several occasions, and most notably with Edge of Tomorrow, a film that was unfortunately marred by horrible marketing and tragic failure at the domestic box office. But Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt’s sci-fi foray joins the ranks of other hugely enjoyable, critically- and fan-loved vehicles that fell short only in making money in theaters. You could lump in there such flicks as the recent Dredd 3D and canonized classics like The Shawshank Redemption and Blade Runner. Yes, that’s good company — and rightfully so.
Having arrived on video and DVD/Blu-Ray just this past month, Edge of Tomorrow (or as Warner Bros. recently decided to mutilate further, Live, Die, Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow) stands as one of the few movies I’ve added to my personal collection amidst the infinite libraries of video streaming services. But back at the beginning of this year, when I saw the original trailer (and subsequent trailers), I wanted nothing to do with the film. It came off having the same tired aesthetic of every other heavily-saturated action movie trailer, and the plot concept of “live, die, repeat” was thwacked over your head with smarmy text and thudding music. Not the kind of trailer to pique your curiosity, but for all that is holy, this movie should have been marketed to pique your curiosity. It’s too damn clever and enjoyable in execution to have a studio obfuscate it, especially when no other action film released this year can steadily stand against it in execution.
But one look at its box office performance and you would guess that poor marketing killed it commercially. Netting a paltry $100 million domestically against its $178 million budget isn’t going to please Warner Bros. much. Granted, it earned over $269 million in foreign box office receipts, but that’s not the story we usually hear. Advertising for off-beat movies can be tricky, but it can be done (just usually not well with big studio stakeholders). What actually turned around my perception of the film (which was badly bruised by trailers) was the phenomenal reception from critics and fans. Rotten Tomatoes had an aggregated 90%, and Metacritic reported a 71% — neither are poor numbers, especially for a purely action film, and it’s remarkable the positive momentum couldn’t keep filmgoers getting into theaters and going back.
Sure, Tom Cruise has been battered around publicly for years, but when has his film performances ever disappointed you? Exactly. He’s perfect for the role of Major William Cage, an officer in a near-future army who has never experienced live combat. He’s forced into a mission against an alien invasion that ends in catastrophe — killed within minutes of making his landing on a beachfront against the enemy, and soon finds himself in a time loop that initiates after death. Compare it to Groundhog Day all you want, but it shares little in common with that movie’s shtick and more in common with some of the the best-paced comedies and action films of all time.
You’d think the concept of living, dying, and repeating would get old, but director Doug Liman edited the film to near perfection. He builds on every repeated sequence, coloring in Tom’s and Emily Blunt’s characters, time-leaping through narratives at just the right moment so as not to tire the concept, and crescendoing in a finale sequence that culminates in dread and fear after having suppressed those emotions throughout the first two-thirds of the film.