Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

“Through readiness and discipline,
we are masters of our fate.”

The exposition for this film (which is more prominently labelled Live. Die. Repeat. on the Blu-ray cover, the tagline from the posters, but retains the Edge of Tomorrow title in the credits), starts even before studio logos have cycled through, with tiny clips of TV coverage explaining that tentacly and clairvoyant aliens have overrun much of Europe and that only the development of new battlesuits has stopped them from crossing over to Britain (and, ultimately, the rest of the world).

Tom Cruise plays William Cage, a US military officer whose job is not to fight, but to disseminate propaganda about the war effort on television talk shows. When a general orders him to cover a large-scale invasion of France from the front, Cage reveals his cowardice and lack of compassion for regular soldiers. All his attempts to weasel out of the assignment achieve, though, is a deployment to the very tip of the charge. Without his rank or job protecting him, and because the enemy somehow knows of the surprise attack in advance, Cage promptly… dies. Horribly. Within minutes of touching down.

And then he wakes up again, a day earlier, with the memories leading up to his death intact. The reason: he came in contact with one of the aliens’ blood during his death. But nobody believes him, so on to battle he goes… to die again. And again. He knows what’s coming, to a degree, but no matter how he changes his ever-renewing present, he still always winds up dead.

—Spoilers have seeped into the section below—

Eventually, he finds Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), a female soldier who gives credence to his claims because she experienced the same thing herself before losing the Groundhog Day-esque power after a blood transfusion. Together, they train and die on the battlefield and train some more until Cage is ready to strike at the aliens’ nerve centre, which would hopefully end the war.

It’s a complicated set-up (see above how long it took to explain the premise, and it actually gets even more complicated during the film and taking into account the ending, which I won’t go into), but well-executed. The battle scenes are appropriately disorienting; regarding the audience’s emotional reaction, they range from indifferent to comic to haunting as we gain an attachment to Cruise’s and Blunt’s characters and as we see Cage put to the test his temporary commanding officer’s maxim (see the quote at the top): that the future isn’t deterministically pre-ordained, but that people can, essentially, forge their own paths with enough determination. As Hollywood philosophies go, it’s not exactly an uncommon one, but still presented in a unique way.

One of the more interesting consequences of the premise is the fact that, as far as the timeframe of the movie is concerned, only Cage is affected by the alien blood. That means there’s a certain transience to the relationship between the two lead characters, particularly from Vrataski’s point of view. Naturally, Cage falls in love with her, as is to be expected in an action film. She, however, doesn’t and can’t reciprocate, since to her, they’ve always just met. Even a kiss during the final set-piece is not particularly convincing (and, I would hope, intentionally played as such): it’s perfunctory, an offering to audience expectations more than the result of a natural progression. Within the movie, it can also be read as an acknowledgment by Vrataski that what Cage is feeling is real, even if she doesn’t feel the same way.

Another way in which the movie subverts sci-fi action movie clichés is that it’s really Vrataski who is the hero. She’s the first to almost magically gain powers that turn her into a “Chosen One” character, and she’s the awesome warrior others look up to and follow into battle. Even after she becomes “normal” again, it’s her skills and her mind that are critical to their mission’s success. The nominal protagonist stumbles into the situation, and while his character gets developed and he ultimately saves Earth, he can only do so by following her lead. Vrataski is neither a damsel-in-distress nor a stereotypical caricature of a butch soldier who out-males the men in her unit to prove her worthiness, and as outlined above, she’s not even really a love interest. She’s a second main character in her own right, with her own strengths and weaknesses, and her role in the film isn’t just to help Tom Cruise, big damn hero, fulfil the demands of the plot.

As if to address concerns that the movie doesn’t follow the usual beats, after a while, we stop seeing it have fun with repetitions and only see a linear timeline in which Cage has already had much success (and where we skip over his failures). This also has the effect of turning the final segment of the film into Aliens, and a much more conventional action movie, though the unusual character configuration remains a strength and there continue to be individual moments of humour.

In all, Edge of Tomorrow is a good film that supposedly disappointed at the box office (though as of this writing, it looks like it earned over $350 million worldwide, which doesn’t sound that bad); may its “new” title provide it a longer and more successful life.

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