Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

*. Groundhog Day meets Starship Troopers. I guess. That’s what the producers called it anyway, and it’s how I’m going to break it down.
*. I’ll start with Groundhog Day, or the narrative of eternal return. The concept is beyond rational explanation, so the script doesn’t even make a pretence of explaining. Aliens (called Mimics) have invaded. The main alien (dubbed “the Omega”) has the ability to control time through some biological mechanism. When a soldier kills an “Alpha” alien he (or she) receives some kind of blood transfusion or plasmic bonding and is granted the same Mimic power to keep going through temporal loops. This is what happens to our reluctant hero Major William Cage (Tom Cruise). The only way for Cage to then get off the roundabout is to kill the Omega.
*. The idea of someone re-living the same period in their life over and over is not, if you spend any time thinking about it, not a fun one to entertain. It strikes me as being a bit too much like hell. It’s depressing too, as our hero has to keep killing himself in order to reset, forcing him to adopt a death wish as a narrative device. All Bill Murray had to do was go to bed.
*. Then, if you stop to think some more about how many lives Cage goes through in this film, you get a kind of vertigo. He must spend several lifetimes reliving just these few days. How does he stand the sheer boredom? When does he sleep?
*. I don’t think the target audience had the same problems I had. By target audience I mean young people (the source is a Japanese YA novel) who have grown up on video games. Both the author of the source novel (Hiroshi Sakurazaka) and the producer-director of Edge of Tomorrow (Doug Liman) explicitly made the connection between the protagonist’s life being reset every time he is killed as coming from video game play. I’ve talked many times before about how much today’s action films borrow from the look of video games, but this structural borrowing marks another level of absorption.
*. Another aspect of this kind of story that has to be finessed is the boredom that goes along with any repetition. Here the target demographic works against the film, as an audience raised on video games bores easily. The (only?) solution is to ramp up the pace and just whip the story along, leaving out all the dull parts. This is certainly something Edge of Tomorrow tries to do, and for the most part it’s successful. It may be brainless and incoherent, but the action rarely lets up enough for you to catch your breath.
*. So much for Groundhog Day, now on to Starship Troopers.
*. By Starship Troopers I mainly mean the retro-futuristic look of the war between soldiers and bugs. Frankly, I still think the FX in Starship Troopers look better, and that movie came out nearly twenty years earlier.
*. As with Starship Troopers the story is set in a strangely atemporal universe. Though it’s the near future, the great war for civilization is just a re-hash of WW2, with the Mimics as Nazis conquering Europe and the allied attack being a failed D-Day. Meawhile, we’re no longer using drones or missiles or even tanks, which leaves us stuck with grunts in exo-suits hitting the beach.
*. The Mimics, in turn, just look like CGI scribbles or frantic balls of yarn. I wasn’t impressed, but they move so fast you can’t get a good look at them anyway. Or at least they were moving too fast for me to get a good look at. But I’m old.
*. It’s fast, noisy, and very expensive. At the end of the day though, wouldn’t you rather play a movie like this than watch it?

5 thoughts on “Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

  1. Tom Moody

    Your analysis of the exhausted feeling of videogame do-overs infecting this plot is spot-on.
    Also, your pic is well-chosen because (no offense to the elderly) — Tom Cruise looks especially like the old-man-trying-to-look-young that he has become. The boyish bangs over drawn, tired features, the eternal Moe Howard. One interpretation of this film is that he is endlessly recapitulating his career as an “action star” and all the temporal re-sets mimic the (possibly) endless cinematic takes necessary to get moves right that were easier when he was younger. (You may have guessed this commenter is not a Cruise fan.)

    1. Alex Good Post author

      Ha! That’s an interesting take on the movie I hadn’t thought of.

      Can’t say I’m a big Tom Cruise fan either. Doesn’t have a lot of range and he seems to be a bit of a flake in real life as well. I guess the thing I liked him best in was Magnolia, but even there he sort of fell apart when he really had to act.

      I give him credit for having such a long career though. He’s managed to hang around near the top for quite a while, and without a lot of change in the roles he plays. That’s quite a feat.

      As for movies as videogames . . . that’s a whole essay.

  2. Tom Moody

    My theory of his long career is *he cannot accept failure* and has the kind of driven, narcissistic personality that convinces everyone, including theatre audiences (somehow) that he is great and his project deserves to continue. If he’d ever been able to look in the mirror and say, “you know, I really can’t act very well” we would have been spared so many mediocre-to-bad films!

  3. Tom Moody

    Also, I had forgotten this until I read the IMDb summary, but Bill Murray as “Phil” in Groundhog Day also kills himself a few times to get out of his loop (then wakes up same as usual).

    1. Alex Good Post author

      Yes, Murray even drives off a cliff at one point, giving Chris Elliott his one funny line. The situation is a bit different than it is here, where Cruise has to actually get killed in order to reset the time loop. He even has his partner shoot him in the head with as much emotion as she would press a button on a console. All Murray has to do is fall asleep and he’s going to wake up at the beginning again.

      In Happy Death Day I think the heroine has to get murdered by the killer in order to reset the loop, but in that case the point seems to be that her death is inevitable, it’s what she’s trying to escape.


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