Mon
Jun 9 2014 12:30pm

Plenty of Extra Lives: The Edge of Tomorrow

The Edge of Tomorrow review

There’s this part in the second level on the easy path of StarFox 64 when a giant, wildly impractical robot-spaceship adversary pretends to give up for like three seconds. This trick only works the first time and when you know what’s coming a second time, you’re already thumbing your spaceship to safety way before anything crazy happens. The most unrealistic thing about video games isn’t talking foxes or giant robots, but instead, the idea that not only can you have do-overs, but that the do-overs themselves are necessary to success.

The Edge of Tomorrow—the latest Tom Cruise sci-fi action summer action vehicle—is exactly like a lot of video games because its narrative structure combined with its shoot-em-up aesthetic makes the do-over both seem simultaneously cheap and essential.

Light spoilers for The Edge of Tomorrow

As if its alien tendrils are poised on the pulse of the American psyche, The Edge of Tomorrow initially posits Tom Cruise’s leading man not as hero, but instead as an overblown PR scumbag who will try weasel his way out of just about anything. If the movie didn’t have so much other stuff it wanted to do, Cruise’s William Cage could easily be a classically redeemed Dickensian character: a sort of Scrooge meets ExoSquad sort of guy. But more smartly, the film just resorts to giving us lots of scenes where Tom Cruise comically bites the dust. From alien shootings, to explosions, and pretty much everything but a cartoon anvil falling on him, Cage’s life is reset over and over again. If the character of Cage was a nice person, this might seem tragic, but because he’s painted as a blackmailing wuss, even a pro-Cruise audience member will be laughing.

But thanks to a chance meeting with super-solider Rita (Emily Blunt) we and Cage learn there is more to his Groundhog Day situation than some sort of everybody-hates-Tom Cruise-wish-fulfillment. Instead, Cage must use his knowledge of previous events to explore different scenarios which will eventually result in the salvation of the human race. And though these stakes are laughably high, The Edge of Tomorrow doles out its level-up style pay-offs with such video game precision that even the most jaded won’t worry too much if any of this really makes any sense. The aliens (inexplicably called “mimics”) can manipulate time in order to execute perfect planet-dominating strategies. Rita, and later Cage, accidentally inherit this “power,” and through their respective deaths can reset the day in which they live.

The Edge of Tomorrow review

Save for a few last-minute deus-ex machina shenanigans, most of what ensues from this premise sticks to its giant robot guns: through sheer repetition, practice, and reevaluation, the puzzle of the film’s conflict can be solved. The Edge of Tomorrow isn’t really a good movie at all, but uses its format so effectively that it hardly matters. Each time Tom Cruise reawakens, it’s not with the comic disorientation of Bill Murray in Groundhog Day or with the eerie psychological Guy Pierce confusion of Memento. Instead, The Edge of Tomorrow gives you all the facts and doesn’t ever tease at some sort of weird metaphysical solution to the time loop, but instead makes its stakes very clear: have Cage get farther this time than last time! And just like in a video game, there’s a weird little rush every time both he and Rita meet a new character, go to a new place, or get a little further away from the familiar.

And the reason we care is because in between we’re shown a lot of repetition of them failing at the same scenario in a multitude of different ways. Not a whole lot has to really happen in this movie for us to be satisfied. Instead, the only thing it needs to do to seem exciting is have something different happen. The Edge of Tomorrow succeeds at tricking us into being constantly entertained by occasionally boring us with the monotony of repetition.

And unlike other time-loop narratives where notions of fatalism are explored, and the nature of reality and time questioned, this film’s one and only overriding morality is that of being anti-boredom. We play games—and probably video game specifically—out of a supreme boredom. Meanwhile, we live our lives in seemingly endless cycles of sameness over and over again. The Edge of Tomorrow, when viewed the right way, is simply turning your morning commute into a war with space aliens, and allowing you to improve on your situation each time. With an endless amounts of lives, re-spawns, or whatever you want to call them, Tom Cruise can do battle against the enemy and his own short-comings endlessly. But it doesn’t mean he isn’t making mistakes, getting hurt, and becoming frustrated.

The Edge of Tomorrow review

If Scrooge had been playing StarFox for the N64, he might have developed strategies similar to the ones Rita and Cage devise in this movie. Back then, it took one night and three Spirits to redeem a man’s soul. The Edge of Tomorrow does the same work in two hours, but somehow, plows through countless souls through countless do-overs. It may not be progress, but it’s never boring.


Ryan Britt is a longtime contributor to Tor.com.

13 comments
Timothy Borsilli
1. Grandmarshal
Nice review. I thought it was a fun Sci-fi Romp. Not exactly tredding new ground, but it had some cool bits. I'd reccomend it to a friend.

I'm actually more interested in tracking down the book/manga that its was based on and reading that!
Mike R
2. Redlander
I disagree. This is a good movie that does make progress. How so? Well, when was the last time an alien invasion movie made you laugh? When since 9/11 has a disaster movie with the fate of the human race hanging in the balance had anything other than a somber ending? I'm struggling to think of one.

As sad as it sounds, this is progress of a sort. For perhaps the first time in a long time a movie of this kind doesn't explicity invoke that terrible day in 2001. No falling buildings. No civilians wandering about while covered in gray dust. Edge of Tomorrow is something of a throwback to the fun, goofy days of the summer of ID4 and the following summer of Men in Black. And it is very welcome.
Joey Geko
3. Joey Geko
@2 Holy cow did you just nail it.
Having read the book a few weeks ago, and seeing the film over the weekend, I think you've hit on an awesome point.
This movie was funny, occasionally straying into moving, and a really good time. I agree, the comparison to "fun" sci-fi flicks of decades past is apt.
Mike R
4. Redlander
#3

Thanks, Joey.

I'd like to add there's some strong James Cameron vibes going on in this movie as well. Make that classic James Cameron. Because several of the grunts in Edge of Tomorrow wouldn't look out of place standing next to Hicks, Hudson and Vasquez.

Again, a very welcome throwback.
Joey Geko
5. slemay
@2 Agreed, great fun, beautifully done, great sequences. Perfect way to start off the summer blockbuster season.

TC was funny, and it was nice to see him in a different role. He wasn't the usual, un-stoppable force. He was weak, and a coward, who had to slowly become the TC type characters we are used to seeing him play.

EB was just great as well, as the "Full Metal Bitch". A departure from her usual roles. She pulled it off, and then some.

I gave it a solid 9 out of 10.
Sky Thibedeau
6. SkylarkThibedeau
I loved "All You Need is Kill" the novel by Hiroshi Sakurazaka. The movie seems to be very similar but it will suffer from not having that clash of cultures between Keiji and the US Special Forces Elite Rita Vrataski. The book was very short but quite enjoyable. I'm sure I'll enjoy the Anglicized movie version but it doesn't sound like it's the same.
Joey Geko
7. Max Gardner
Review's a little dismissive of video games and why we play them -- I mostly play them for the creative design, atmosphere, plot and characters these days, and if they're fun to play, well, that's nice too -- but I was thinking as I watched this that Tom Cruise was basically playing someone who'd never played video games before, trying to make his way through Demon's Souls by trial and error.

I liked the movie quite a bit. None of the individual elements were anything we haven't seen before, but it put them together into a very entertaining whole with fun action and a good amount of humor that didn't strike me as too hokey. I enjoyed the whole "Warhammer 40K meets Groundhog Day" feel of it.
Lauren Hartman
8. naupathia
This review is weird. It sounds like you give a thumbs up to the movie, but you're so dismissive of it's premise and are condescending about why anyone would like it. Sounds like you almost hate yourself for having enjoyed the movie.

I don't think it's fair at all to say that we only play video games out of boredom. I don't know if you're part of the video game generation, but I sure am having grown up playing them and still do. I don't play games just because I'm bored. I play games because I like puzzles, I like thinking through strategy, and yes I like having fun.

This movie is reminiscent of those things in the sense that it's almost like TC is in a video game. But honestly when watching the movie I wasn't drawing that parallel at all. All I saw was a really great sci-fi film that wanted to explore some of the ideas of time-travel, aliens, and also have a bit of comedy.

As @2 said I think they hit all the bullet points. I really loved this movie. And mostly I think the writing was great because the movie said a lot without saying anything. They didn't have to beat you over the head with things like most movies do nowadays. Like when he has the inevitable depression--we don't have 10 minutes of him angsting on screen about "Why me?", nope. We just have a few well-cut scenes to impress upon you that he's losing hope. And the romance was also spot on. There wasn't a lot of lovey-dovey mopeyness. Instead we get one quiet scene where in a roundabout way he reveals that he really cares about her, and she might just be capable of caring back. But again without explicitly saying it.

Basically I got the impression that these movie creators actually wanted to treat their viewers like intelligent adults, what a novel concept!
Meg K
9. KittenSwarm
I also agree with @Redlander. This movie surprised me and I really enjoyed it, and consider it a good and effective movie.

(Spoilers to follow)
One of the notes I thought well done was the repeat when he abandons the front for a drink at the bar. It was a small breather, but a nice character note that most movies wouldn't have taken the time for.

Also potent was the fact that when he gave up attempting to save everyone (it didn't show explicitly that repeat, but from earlier versions we know Rita dies on that beach without intervention, along with the J platoon) and just stormed through solo to the dam, it turned out to be a trap and a "false ending" to the problem. Abandoning his humanity and ignoring his fellow soldiers wasn't the solution and wasn't the way to victory.
Because of that lesson, I really wasn't bothered by the happy ending. It felt like an earned reward. Even the fact that he wakes up earlier in the timeline makes sense, because in the Louvre finale he is doused with the timejuice earlier than he would have been at the beach, so he's sent back to a different point.

(Spoilers for Prince of Persia: Sands of Time)
On a video game note, the removal of powers fight before the finale did remind me of one of my favorite video games, Prince of Persia: Sands of Time. In that game you have a dagger that can reverse time in short bursts, allowing you to recover from mistakes and manipulate gameplay as you are parkour-ing around. In the finale, the game takes the dagger away from you and then makes you climb one of the most challenging and breathtaking setpieces, and you have to do it error free without your safety net. The stakes seem incredibly elevated because the time rewind you have relied on to learn and practice on each obstacle throughout the game is suddenly removed.
Ryan Britt
10. ryancbritt
@8 and others

Sorry about the harshness about video games. I think I find that NOW I play video games out of boredom, whereas they thrilled me as a child. So, that was probably a personal thing.

I did like the movie, but I stick to my guns saying it wasn't a "good" movie. My review was trying to figure out why it could both be a really flawed movie and really entertaining, too.
Meg K
11. KittenSwarm
@10
I guess part of my headscratching is the unclearness of the term "good". I thought the movie had a clear vision, character development, story presentation, and some surprising dark humor and poignancy. It used the looping in the first 2/3rds to avoid the cliche action movie dramatic fight beats by presenting angles of the same battle, and kind of skewering the conventions by showing how easily Cage dies with one mistep or error compared to the flawless action hero in other films. I didn't find the final 1/3rd of the movie as entertaining as the rest of the film, but still left the theater with a positive impression.

Was it mind-blowing and transcendent? Not for me. Effective sci-fi and an entertaining, but not vapid, summer movie? To me, yep.

(EoT Plot Spoilers Below)
"The Edge of Tomorrow succeeds at tricking us into being constantly entertained by occasionally boring us with the monotony of repetition."
So we're constantly entertained despite being occasionally bored? I thought they handled this section very well. Apart from the first repeat, they effectively compress the repetition of the base sequence and allow the audience to intuitively make the jumps in logic. The only heavily repeated portion I can think of is the section of the montage with the combat training, which has a great air of dark comedy. The repetition in that case reinforces that Cage doesn't become some super soldier instantly and how blase he eventually gets about his death-resets.

The clarity of the stakes and the loop is no hindrance to me. Through the loops Cage develops as a character. One of the loops clearly shows the effect of the constant dying on him, and the hopelessness settling in after all his attempts fail. "There's a dead man in (his suit)." "How many times have we been here before?" There's a futility and bleakness that seeps into the later repeats. It's doesn't come across to me as some easy video game reset. The movie could have *better* explored some of the PTSD and other changes in Cage, I'd agree with that. But there is a real despair when he tries to stop Rita (again, for the ??? time) at the farm. And how striking was her confusion and horror-realization that this was not the first time they had made it there? I loved that they had the audience experience that along with her.

The movie uses the effect of that video game "life" system better than most games.
Jenny Thrash
12. Sihaya
This is only the latest review to say that the premise of the story is that of a video game where the Major and the Angel can win by sticking to the same repetition over and over again. The reviewers then use that premise to pretty much dismiss the story characters as mere playing pieces devoid of development. It's simply not true. It's really bugging me.

First of all, the characters don't just have to loop; they have to deviate. Some of those deviations are extremely valuable, though they might not be repeated. Also, in a video game, you don't get to leave the playing field that you've been set on, and our protagonist has to do that quite alot, just starting with abandoning his unit to find Blunt, then going to a bar for a day, then abandoning meeting his partner (and coincidentally finding out something new and important when he does). You don't get to gain something by avoiding ever meeting your support. You don't really get effected by watching the death of a character once it's happened for the twenty millionth time, because by then you're pretty aware that the character is a construct, and you long ago quit anthropomorphising him (Cruise gets to the point where he actively works to avoid Blunt's umpteenth death). That's just the stuff that jumps out at me off the top of my head, though.
Shelly wb
13. shellywb
I loved the book this movie was based upon. It's a fairly harsh first person look at a young soldier trapped into being a hero he doesn't want to be, but the only way out for him is to fully accept the role. The ending is not a victory for humanity, but one for him at a price, and humanity is left with hope against the aliens.

The movie is quite different in several ways, but I loved how it was adapted for the screen. The characters were true, despite the main character seeming quite different on the surface. The relationships were more developed of course, but what they did with them on the screen while minimal asked the smart viewer to understand that depth. The heart and points to the story were still there, though details were changed. The only point where there was a very significant change was the ending, which I felt was weaker than the book, but I can understand why they did that.

All in all I think it was a good movie-- not because I wasn't bored, but because it told a story I admire and did it well.

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