Eventually I’m going to get around to talking about GameFront, the site at which I’ve worked for almost my entire time in Los Angeles, which was sadly shut down last month. But that post is taking a long time to develop, and stuff like a book release party keeps getting in the way, so I’m back-burnering it for a bit.
Instead, in honor of Groundhog Day, let’s talk about my favorite action movie of 2014 and one of the cooler time travel-ish movies of recent memory: Edge of Tomorrow (or as it seems to have been rebranded, Live. Die. Repeat.)
Despite an unfortunate title that seemed like it suffered from being too forgettable, Edge is a phenomenal blockbuster. The premise, taken from the Japanese novel All You Need is Kill, finds the protagonist fighting an alien invasion on Earth and being killed during the fighting — only to wake up again, the day before, to relive it over and over. It’s Ground Hog Day by way of Independence Day.
In Edge, Tom Cruise is a military PR man sent to the front lines as the remaining united human forces prepare to invade France from Britain, in hopes of turning back attacking “mimics” — aliens that have been taking over the European continent. The humans think they have an advantage with their new “jacket” exo-suit technology that makes soldiers faster, stronger, and better armed. After previously winning a battle thanks to the insane exploits of a single soldier, dubbed “The Angel of Verdun” for where the battle took place, the rest of humanity is pretty confident they’ve figured out how to beat the scary and super-lethal mimics.
Cruise winds up refusing orders and getting arrested, and he’s busted back down to private and tossed in with J-Squad, a group of hard-asses who are some of the first on the beach. The battle goes poorly, the humans get routed, and through a bit of “luck,” Cruise’s character, Cage, is doused in gross alien blood that melts his face.
And then he wakes up and it’s the morning before. No “I Got You, Babe,” but we get the point quickly enough.
Among things that Edge does right is Cage’s arc. It’s easy to forget what a great Everyman Cruise can play, and Cage is basically a sniveling coward at the start of the film. He’s not completely unlikable, though — he’s just used to a certain privilege of not having to actually fight in the war he’s trying to sell. As the film progresses, of course, he finds himself in worse and worse situations, but like Phil Connors in Ground Hog Day, it turns out that the best way to deal with the experience is to change who he is as a person. There’s also the existential threat to humanity, but Edge wisely balances it with a much more human story as Cage meets and fights along the Angel of Verdun, Rita.
One of the more interesting things about Ground Hog Day is how bleak it gets. Connors more or less finds himself in a hell state: nothing he does has any consequences, he can’t meaningfully engage with anyone because they won’t remember, and he can’t change or improve his situation (or so he thinks). Midway through the movie, he’s attempting to kill himself just to bring it to an end. One has to figure that monotony would be a serious issue for someone who is immortal and yet doomed to repeat the same 24 hours. That the movie manages to turn that experience to humor is one of its great accomplishments.
The beauty of Edge is that it does the same thing. Cage gets killed repeatedly, and, legitimately, horribly. And yet because death carries no consequence, the movie starts to use smart editing (and Cruise’s ability to do this hilarious high-pitched “Holy shit!” death scream) to turn the whole thing hilarious. In one scene, Cage instigates a situation in which he and his platoon stop during a training march and do push-ups, and he tries to then roll under a passing truck to escape detection and get away. The first time, the truck smashes him, flabbergasting everyone around. The second (or third, or fourth, or whatever it took him to get the right timing), he narrowly escapes.
The whole movie is about Cage tuning his experience through the day, and death is the way he learns — so the movie uses his failures to lighten the mood. There’s a similar treatment of a similar situation in the “Supernatural” episode “Mystery Spot,” which is about preventing one of the show’s protagonist brothers’ death. Each time he dies, the other brother’s day resets. The comedy starts to come up as, despite all Sam’s efforts, Dean keeps finding the most ridiculous and unexpected ways to buy it. Before long, we’re not even seeing his gruesome ends, it just implies them with punchline cuts. Edge would be a serious downer if it didn’t often engage in this brand of humor as well.
Not enough good can be said about Emily Blunt, either. She’s the hero in the story and the fulcrum on which the plot hinges. While Cage is the one with foreknowledge of what will happen, Rita is the reason anything does happen. Her character is informed by off-screen tragedy that has created a powerful, stoic drive within her. I’d love to see the movie about what happened to Rita at Verdun, because to have come as far as she has on her own shows how strong she is. Unlike Cage, Rita didn’t have someone like her to keep her going.
As for the time travel, like Groundhog Day, it’s pretty solid. The test of any time travel movie isn’t whether it’s especially smart about theoretical physics, but whether it’s internally consistent with its rules. And Edge smartly plays with the audience by adding ambiguity to the timeline.
There are several moments throughout the movie in which the audience is seeing a scene for the first time — only to discover Cage has been through the same moment multiple times and has already adapted. Like the characters in the movie, we’re seeing events for the first time after Cage has already lived them over and over again. In several moments, it’s more like we’re seeing the movie from Rita’s point of view than Cage’s, and it lets the film focus on the characters at key times, rather than on the plot.
And ultimately it’s that balance that makes Edge so cool. It’s an action movie and a sci-fi story, but it’s the deeper emotional story about loss, love and sacrifice that makes the movie work.