This movie gave me lots of feels… And I’m not talking about the romantic sort– though there is a love story here and it’s wonderfully subtle. No, my feels come from my glee at the awesome bits– which I then I have to mix with my frustration with the lazy bits.
Edge of Tomorrow stars Tom Cruise (Cage) and Emily Blunt (Rita) as soldiers in a war against invading aliens– a war humanity is losing. The alien Mimics rode meteorites down to Earth’s surface and spread out like wildfire, eating up Europe at a massive pace. At the start of the film, humanity is on the verge of a D-Day with aliens and mech suits– literally storming a French beach, where it all goes wrong. The aliens are ready for them, and Earth’s troops die by the thousands. Our hero, Cage, manages to strap a claymore to his chest and kill a huge alien before he dies, soaked in Mimic blood.
And then he wakes up at the start of his previous day– and does it all over again.
There’s not a lot of nuance in this film. The D-Day analog is clear, as are the flavors of Groundhog Day and the book Starship Troopers (not the movie– dear lord, no). We never find out why the aliens are on Earth, and it literally doesn’t matter. We can’t communicate with them, and they kill humans and drive them from their homes with single-minded intensity.
The nuance that is there, gave me fangirl goosebumps. The characterization is incredibly detailed for an action movie, and the constant replay of one day with the same people allows the film to give us more and more glimpses into who these people are, even the ones we meet briefly. Cage’s ability to remember the events of each replayed day allows him to win people over by telling them personal details he couldn’t possibly know otherwise. It’s a story device that works extremely well. It makes these characters who might have otherwise been cardboard cutouts into three-dimensional people we care about deeply.
I especially liked Cage’s character arc. (Of course, being the main character, for most of the movie he’s the only one with an arc.) Cage is the pretty face of the US war effort, encouraging people to sign up to fight the aliens. Then he’s pressed into service in the attack, initially just expected to narrate the battle. Cage balks hard. He’s an officer who’s never seen combat, never been trained, and he’s entirely uninterested in trying out the more dangerous aspects of war. His upper lip is continuously beaded with sweat, and he takes every sliver of opportunity to run off. He knows he’s just going to die, and he’s terrified.
But with every replayed day, his courage starts to eclipse his fear. He’s still afraid, but he’s learning ways to survive and make a difference. Master Sergeant Farrell (Bill Paxton, in a role that had me rolling around in my chair in glee) has a line repeated over and over, “There is no courage without fear.” But fearless isn’t courage– it’s insanity. Courage is overcoming that fear, and that’s the heart of Cage’s journey.
Rita, the Angel of Verdun and poster girl of the war effort, used to be in Cage’s position. She killed an alien and was drenched in its blood (just like Cage), and woke up to replay the same day over and over until she helped win a battle at Verdun. She isn’t a sidekick, despite every day’s reboot. Once Cage perfects his approach, the filmmakers skip the beginning of each day– and we get to see Rita absorb his reports and advance a little each time. She’s smart and ruthless and broken from watching the same people die hundreds of times, and she’s the only one Cage can really connect with. The romance is inevitable but quiet and reserved. The focus of the movie is on winning the war, whatever it takes.
So what bothered me… What made me want to tear my hair out? I saw the movie in 2D, and while the effects might be great in 3D and IMAX– in 2D they were awful. The ships and troop scenes looked like paper cutouts fluttering in the wind. When Cage dies for the first time, his dead face looks like rubber, and it was more ridiculous than horrifying.
Cruise goes from looking amazing for his age to rather disturbingly chicken-necked from scene to scene, especially in the beginning of the movie. He looks mid-30s in the action scenes, and significantly older in the video snips where he’s playing military poster boy on TV. It may have been a consequence of the video quality, but wow, it was weird to look at and took me out of the story.
The mech suits also bothered me, from a logical standpoint. The time is clearly very near future, so I really wonder how humans managed to make functional mechanical warrior suits that don’t break easily, require a small battery to function most of a day, and can handle being dunked in water. I kept thinking that the suits had to be made of mithril, since they kept punching metal and rock with little to no damage. It’s a seriously cool idea, with zero to back it up.
As a martial artist, I tend to give most action movie fight scenes the side-eye, but I had a major issue with how Cage learns to fight the aliens. There’s a reason we can’t download kung-fu into our heads (like in the Matrix) and have it work, even if we had the technology. Our muscles need to be trained just as much as our minds, and Cage starts out with the same, untouched body every day even though his memories are intact. There’s no way he could have developed all those moves to kill off aliens on the battlefield, regardless of what was in his head. Try watching Bruce Lee movies for a week and then take on a kung-fu expert. Dollars to donuts, the expert wins because of his experience.
And then we come to the weird– the part I’m not entirely sure of. Edge of Tomorrow is clearly headed directly for a video game release, and the movie is structured like a meta version of a first person shooter. Just like in games, you start fresh and unprepared, die, and start all over again with a little more information. You repeat the same day over and over, just like this movie, until you get all the steps right and make it to the big boss. There are even a few places where it feels like Cage is a more experienced gamer leading Rita around a bad spot like she’s a newbie. I’m not sure what to think of this, because while it worked really well and probably appeals to gamers– it took me out of the story over and over. I feel like the two art forms are different enough that mashing them together doesn’t really work.
Despite my reservations, I recommend this movie fairly highly. It’s fast-paced and exciting, with a strong emotional connection to all of the characters you see. You really care about who wins, who dies, and who dies for good. I’ll take that sort of ride over perfect yet soulless logic any day.