Who wouldn’t pay to watch Tom Cruise struggle against the ravages of time?
On paper at least, Edge of Tomorrow has all the ingredients of a surefire hit. Cruise’s latest foray into the world of pop-dystopia boasts a compelling, high-concept premise, an aging but still-bankable leading man, a cast of genre stalwarts including Emily Blunt and Bill Paxton and a director – The Bourne Identity’s Doug Liman – known for injecting jocularity and wit into effects-driven event pictures. It’s also an unlikely critical success, currently enjoying an impressive score of 89 percent on Rotten Tomatoes as of this writing.
So why did the film, made for a reported $178 million, only manage to nab $20 million during its international rollout last weekend? Why is it expected to underperform again, this time to the tune of $30-35 million, when it’s released stateside this Friday? The answer is simple enough: Even though it’s barely June, audiences are already suffering from the seasonal disorder known as blockbuster fatigue.
After months of being bombarded with nothing but concussive spectacle and Adam Sandler’s latest paid-vacation-masquerading-as-comedy, it’s only natural for audiences to start being more selective. Certain movies, especially those that aren’t sequels, prequels, spin-offs or adaptations of well-established properties, are bound to slip through the cracks between box office behemoths such as X-Men: Days of Future Past and Disney’s Maleficent.
This kind of exhaustion doesn’t usually set in until late July or early August, but 2014 will forever be remembered as the year Hollywood tried to have summer in April. Marvel’s bold decision to release Captain America: The Winter Soldier on April 4, almost a month ahead of its nearest spandex-clad rival, the underwhelming Amazing Spider-Man 2, paid off in spades when the star-spangled sequel became the highest-grossing April movie ever, raking in more than $95 million during its opening weekend alone. Yet it also set an alarming precedent for expanding the release window for blockbusters. Suddenly would-be tentpoles such as the animated family comedy Rio 2 and the doomed Johnny Depp vehicle Transcendence felt comfortable making their debuts during a month typically reserved for unproven comedies, one-and-done horror movies and middle-of-the-road actioners.
Edge of Tomorrow is set in the near future, on an Earth that’s in the final stages of repelling a devastating alien attack. The glowing, arachnid-like invaders, nicknamed “Mimics” for their ability to respond to humanity’s military tactics, have taken over much of Western Europe, but mankind is on the verge of a decisive victory thanks to the development of a series of supercharged mech suits, commonly referred to as “jackets.”
The plot centers on Major William Cage (Cruise), a cowardly advertiser-turned-soldier who finds himself stuck in a time loop after unwittingly tapping into the aliens’ technology. Now, like the protagonists of Groundhog Day and Source Code before him, Cage is condemned to relive the same day over and over again until he can find a way to break the cycle. The key to his temporal salvation might be Special Forces soldier Rita Vrataski (Blunt), a celebrated war hero who once encountered a similar fate. She agrees to train him, but only on the condition that she can “reset” him (i.e. kill him, thus forcing him to start the day over) whenever he steps out of line.
Liman’s film is based on Japanese author Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s critically acclaimed 2004 light novel and its subsequent manga adaptation, which carried the nonsensical but infinitely catchier title All You Need is Kill. After Warner Bros. secured the rights, screenwriter Dante Harper was put in charge of writing a spec-script. Harper’s finished work appeared in the 2010 edition of “The Black List,” a catalog of popular but unproduced screenplays published annually by development executive Franklin Leonard. The current script lists three additional credits, including Christopher McQuarrie, the writer and director of several other Cruise vehicles, including Jack Reacher and the recently announced fifth installment of the Mission: Impossible series.
The advertising for Edge of Tomorrow should be selling the movie as a welcome respite from the interminable franchise fodder that makes up the bulk of blockbuster season, but its $100 million marketing campaign has been dispiritingly rote and uninspired so far, contributing to the notable lack of buzz surrounding the film. Its first theatrical teaser, for example, with its terminal overreliance on shaky-cam, derivative-looking aliens and austerely auto-tuned soundtrack, bore a near-tragic resemblance to the trailer for Jonathan Liebesman’s notoriously awful alien invasion flick Battle: Los Angeles.
Without a built-in fanbase or flashy advertising to support its domestic release, Edge of Tomorrow may be forced to rely on good old-fashioned word of mouth in order to make its money back. If the film is half as clever, intense and character-driven as the early reviews are suggesting, it will find its audience eventually, either in theaters or in the eventful afterlife of Blu-ray and Netflix. Just give it time.
Landon McDonald is a graduate student studying public relations. His column “The Reel Deal” runs Wednesdays.