More and more when I watch films I find myself opting to watch something I’ve already seen. This may be due to my age, my changing interests or something else entirely. But I mostly think it is because films are just getting worse and increasingly lacking for new ideas and inspiration. The cinematic stampede of comics books films, remakes and unwanted and much belated sequels are the main evidence of this. These films are also more often than not much poorer than than the source material.
This doesn’t mean all new films are all bad and a great example of this is 2014’s Edge of Tomorrow which is based on a Japanese science-fiction novel called All You Need Is Kill. As you can see in the image above, it kept the novel’s name when it was released in Japan. The two leads are Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt and it is directed by Doug Liman whose previous films I was not particularly interested in.
I want to pursue a digression before I get into the meat of the film itself. Tom Cruise remains one of the most successful actors in the world and is also one of the most consistently bankable. He is also known for his forthright belief in the teachings of Scientology, a notoriously litigious and exceedingly strange cult that has a great deal of influence in Hollywood. Many don’t like him because of the latter but the latter says nothing about his ability to play a convincing character in a Hollywood film. While the more I look into Scientology the less I find that I like; exactly the same could be said of the film industry and the personal lives of most actors. The best of them are the kooks and the worst of them I just don’t want to imagine what goes on in their private lives.
The other criticism about Tom Cruise (which has been made fun of in at least one comedy routine I recall seeing), is that he tends to play the same character in every film. This is a fair criticism but it is also merely stating the obvious as these roles are often written explicitly with him in mind. Tom Cruise does best playing an All-American Hero. He always does a good job and the customers seem to like it. And further, he does have more range than he is often given credit. There are many actors who tend to play the same character including Bruce Willis, Clint Eastwood and Sean Connery. As with Cruise, the people paying for the tickets don’t seem to mind too much.
All that said about Cruise, his character isn’t quite that here — at least not initially. One of the main reasons I like this film so much is because it has a similar plot device to another favourite of mine, Harold Ramis’ Groundhog Day. The plot to Edge of Tomorrow has an alien invasion where mainland Europe has been devastated. Cruise’s character Major William Cage, is an armed-conflict-avoidant war booster whose cowardice leads to him being stripped of his rank and forced into an airborne invasion to retake Europe from mysterious aliens. He is dropped in with his disgusted fellow soldiers and soon finds himself dying under the body of one of the aliens on the beach. He wakes up alive and well the day before ready to do it all again.
Where Groundhog Day has Bill Murray’s misanthropic Phil Connors waking up because that’s the plot, in Edge of Tomorrow Cage’s ability to live, die and repeat is the main weapon the aliens use against humanity. Cage is soon to discover that the head alien which is called the Omega is able to reset the day every time one of his Alpha captains is killed. As Cage was under one of these Alphas on the beach, he absorbs the power. He learns this from Rita Vratasky who is played by Emily Blunt. Her heroic status as the Angel of Verdun came from her having the same power before she lost it in a blood transfusion.
The other similarity with Groundhog Day is that Cage, like Phil, grows as a character in the film. Phil goes from being a cynical jerk that sneers at anyone enjoying simple pleasures to being a Good Samaritan polymath that lives for every moment. Cage goes from coward to selfless soldier which he proves at the end by going into battle after losing the powers that got him to that point. Cruise is typecast for playing highly capable fighters but he is also very convincing as a smarmy chickenhawk which makes his growth more believable.
There is a significant age difference between Blunt and Cruise which is hard to fathom as Cruise seems to have barely aged since the mid-90s. Even knowing this though, they both work well as protagonists and Blunt’s character is refreshingly neither a damsel or an impossibly flawless feminist super soldier. Most of the film centers on these two but the support characters including the scruffy oddballs in Cage’s J-Squad are great too. I particularly enjoyed the late Bill Paxton as Master Sergeant Farell who answers a question about being an American with, “No, sir. I’m from Kentucky!”
One could criticise the film for being a fairly typical action film with a time-loop premise but it works because it is done so well. The pacing is just right and the action scenes are not overblown or underwhelming. Despite the speed of the squid-like mimic aliens, the camera still lets the audience know what is happening unlike the visual cacophony that is the signature of so many comic book films. The only major criticism I have is the much overused “one battle to win them all” ending. This is a feature of virtually every alien invasion film which generally involves the protagonists discovering a weakness that will destroy or stop them all for good. Examples of films like this include Independence Day, Battle: Los Angeles, Starship Troopers, Oblvion (also a Cruise film) and Pacific Rim. Granted it is easier to end a film this way but I would appreciate a little more creativity.
The author of the novel Hiroshi Sakurasaka was influenced by the way video games teach the player through trial and error. The example that most can understand is in the original Super Mario Bros. where most new video game players will run into the first enemy and then on the second or third time learn to jump on or over it. Gradually they will get better and with persistence — they will win. The movie plays out much like this with Cage trying new tactics over and over while also improving his skills. The aesthetic helps a lot with the soldiers equipped with powered exoskeletons — something not unfamiliar to anyone who plays a lot of action games. Something else I noticed is the movie (probably not intentionally), is similar to the 2006 game Resistance: Fall of Man which has a World War 2 aesthetic though it involves American troops landing in the United Kingdom to liberate it from a different alien menace.
To end with some potpourri — I feel like I should mention the special effects because they are excellent but the film could have worked well if they were simply competent. That says a lot about the film in general as even the good action films rely on the visual effects being better than laughable. I should also add that I haven’t read the original novel or any of the adaptations which would have added a bit more to this post. Looking at the synopsis though, it seems that this film removed a lot of the more overdone tropes in Japanese media which is a good thing.