Edge of Tomorrow (2014) is Surprisingly Awesome

It has been two weeks since I promised myself to never again set foot in a 3D screening. I had to break that promise this week. Edge of Tomorrow (2014) is yet another film that is only available (at my local theater) in three dimensions. I was grateful that X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) had one screening which spared my body the discomfort, but Tom Cruise’s latest sci-fi adventure was not so generous.

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My dislike of 3D aside, Edge of Tomorrow made use of it in ways we are already familiar with: a POV shot in which our protagonist is on the wrong end of a Taser, explosions with flying bits, foregrounding actors against a blurry background, etc. The film also misuses 3D in all the ways we are familiar with: the perceptual challenges of action scenes, the darkened shots, and setting scenes at night to add to both the perceptual difficulties and the darkness of the screen.

What is more interesting about the film is its story and the relationship between the characters William Cage (Cruise) and Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt).

In a not so distant future a hive-minded alien race invades Earth (all alien invaders share this in common). They quickly conquer Europe and the fate of humanity appears sealed until an advanced weapon-suit is developed and deployed by Rita to finally gain some ground. These suits are more advanced than the one we saw last year in Elysium (2013). Cage is a media spokesperson for this global war; his task, up until this point, had been to recruit soldiers and assure the public of the guaranteed victory for the human species. Given the momentum of a recent victory, the humans decide to launch a simultaneous attack on all fronts. Such an attack would either destroy the enemy for good or lead to the eventual extinction of human kind. A General (Brendan Gleeson) decides Cage should participate in the battle and our hero cowardly rejects the command. He is then arrested and forced to cooperate.

Now forced to enter the war firsthand, Cage is stripped of his rank and title. The battle commences and the aliens are there to welcome the humans with death and destruction. Unsure of how to use his weapon-suit and uncertain how to turn the safety off his gun, Cage stumbles across the battlefield doing anything he can to preserve himself. He reconvenes with his Unit and that Unit is made quick work of by an alien drone. A now larger alien joins the battle and Cage, in a last ditch effort to save himself, explodes the head of the bigger alien, whose apparently acidic blood melts Cage’s face and body.

Here’s the interesting part: Cage then wakes up the day before battle. The day repeats itself again with similar results, except that a new death finishes our protagonist off. The real story now begins. Cage repeats the battle day after day until he encounters Rita on the field, explains his plight, and discovers that she too once had his power to “Live. Die. Repeat.” as the film’s tagline suggests.

This power is an alien power, i.e., the power to reset the day. Cage and Rita repeat the same battle and test new strategies and tactics to hopefully defeat the invading species, always without success. Similar to Cruise’s sci-fi blockbuster from last summer, Oblivion (2013), we learn that an “Omega” controls all the drones and “Alphas,” the larger of the aliens whom Cage received his power from. The strategy is to then destroy the Omega and save planet Earth. We should trust our intuitions when guessing which species will come out on top.

The transition from a weak and cowardly media person to highly skilled soldier marks the better sequences of the film. Cage trains day after day to become as strong as Rita. A battle simulator punishes Cage, sometimes breaking his back or legs. Rita then disposes of Cage, thereby resetting the whole process. Luckily for Cage he retains his memory (and apparently his strength?). The dynamic between Cage and Rita is interesting for the latter’s commitment to winning the war and the former’s more relaxed attitude. How many days are relived is never firmly stated, but the dialogue between the two soldiers informs us of its length to some degree. Cage slowly learns about Rita – her life, her past, her lost lover – to the extent that Cage develops deep feelings. At one point in their repetitive adventure Cage reveals that this is always as far as she gets, that she always perishes in this farmyard, no matter what he may do. Cruise delivers a powerful line, something to the effect of “I wish I never met you.” It is here, linked with Rita’s earlier emotional moment in which she reflects on witnessing someone close to her die on the battlefield day after day, that the severity of Cage’s power/curse hits us.

But unlike Groundhog Day (1993), wherein Bill Murray’s power/curse turns him into a cynic, Cage briefly turns into a melancholic before realizing that he is the only person who can change the course of history and save his friend from certain death. Again this story resonates with Oblivion.

We unfortunately expect a love story to develop and as Rita plants a big kiss on Cage just moments before they sacrifice themselves to kill the Omega, we cannot help but groan a bit. And the ending of the film – which I found fairly straightforward and logical – based on the impossible time traveling powers of both alien and Cage, we see now that our protagonist was very happy to meet his future love. I have not read too many reviews of the film yet, but what seems to be missing is the comparison to Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore’s 50 First Dates (2004). Essentially we have the same premise, albeit under different circumstances. Each day Cage (re)lives is another opportunity to get to know Rita and develop his feelings for her. This becomes quite apparent in one of the more climactic scenes, shortly after Cage stated he wished he never knew her: seconds before their deaths she finally tells Cage her real middle name, a gesture of intimacy for Rita, and we know that this is the trigger word Cage will use to later convince/seduce her. (A humorous scene, early in the couple’s relationship, where Cage suggests they have sex to perhaps transfer his powers to her, also suggests the direction the film will go and where it will end.)

But the couple’s interactions maintains a clever play amongst action sequences, comedic moments, and developing love. It was this blending of love and action, and the surprisingly apt and seemingly genuine performances of the actors, Cruise and Blunt, that really make this sci-fi film worthwhile. This is a more successful film than the recent X-Men feature. So if you need to pick one sci-fi blockbuster this summer, I would suggest Edge of Tomorrow.

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