On our recent podcast, we talked about time travel. We probably will again, because time travel is cool, and repetition is part of the theme. Speaking of repetition, I’ll be going a bit more in-depth on the summer action flick Edge of Tomorrow. In case you didn’t catch our podcast or the movie trailer, Edge of Tomorrow is about an alien invasion and one man’s unusual power to stop it. The movie is sort of like a combination of Groundhog Day and Saving Private Ryan, only set a little bit in the future and with more Tom Cruise. The repeated day mechanic is slightly different from Groundhog Day’s, however, in that Cruise’s character has a level of control over it, making the runs less like a magical lesson-learning experience and more like an attempt at an extremely difficult level of any given Megaman game. The control differential doesn’t end with the main character, either. The fact that others have knowledge of the time travel mechanic have a slight but meaningful impact on charaters’ agency.
In Edge of Tomorrow, Tom Cruise is Major Bill Cage, an military media figurehead with no actual combat experience who is more or less deservedly shanghaied into a D-Day style assault on the aliens, referred to as “mimics,” after another war hero, Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) killed hundreds of mimics to turn the tide in Verdun, France. The assault turns out to be a trap, and Cage dies a horrible death, along with the rest of his unit. In the process, though, he was splattered by a larger mimic’s blood and rather than rolling the credits, we return to the beginning of the day. The obvious ensues, we learn that Cage has to die to continue the loop because if he’s only wounded, a blood transfusion cause him to lose the day-starting-over-thing. We learn this because apparently it happened to Vrataski, and that’s why she was able to kill so many aliens back in Verdun. The majority of the movie becomes something akin to a pattern-recognition video game in which Cage gets better and better at killing aliens. You know, just like Bill Murray.
Despite being a war-time groundhog day, the mechanics of the film are relatively original. Sure, it’s the underlying feature in nearly every video game, but it hasn’t been used in a film. Sure, it’s an action/adventure version of a famous comedy, but it explains in detail exactly why it’s happening, and the Cage has some control over when the day starts. Bill Murray’s character, Phil, was fighting against the day-starting-over mechanic with a depressing sense of futility, and Tom Cruise’s character is kind of doing the opposite. He’s using the day-starting-over mechanic to fight a completely separate force. Granted, it’s with a similar sense of futility, but also a sense of urgency on account of the whole alien invasion thing.
Another parallel story-line with Groundhog Day diverges in a very important way, or at least seems to: the not-entirely-shoehorned love story between Cage and Vrataski, although the fact that both female counterparts are named Rita does not help. Watching her die over and over again begins to take a toll on Cage, and in some sort of temporally distorted version of Stockholm Syndrome, he begins to fall in love with his coach/occasional murderer. A big difference between this relationship and Phil and Rita’s is that when Cage makes a semi-sincere attempt to seduce her, she realizes what he is doing very quickly. After this, Cage tells her exactly what happens next, and how she dies, and she chooses to go through with the actions anyway. The parallel does sort of snap back together when Cage loses his power, and they share a kiss before sacrificing themselves to destroy the alien hive-mind, but having her choice to turn the main character down be based on knowledge of his ability rather than just dumb luck says something important about the baby-steps Hollywood is taking. It mostly just says that Hollywood is taking them, but we’ll go with it, even though the movie would have worked just fine with the characters’ genders reversed.
Ultimately, the film is successfully original in its use of alien war movie tropes strung up in a repeated day plot device. I personally would have liked to see one more loop, and there was a bit of head scratching after viewing when thinking back to the training montage scene, but any plot holes were hidden very well so that it’s not distracting while you actually watch it.