Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
Written by Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, and John-Henry Butterworth
Directed by Doug Liman
Groundhog Day didn’t invent the “living the same day over and over” trope, but it sure made the thing popular and part of the larger cultural conversation. Edge of Tomorrow takes this idea and overlays it onto a science fiction action film playing the concept for thrills over laughs, though it does have moments of humor. Tom Cruise stars as Major William Cage who is involved in the global effort to push back an alien invasion. Cage is part of media relations and uses his position to avoid combat on the front until the general overseeing the upcoming assault has him shipped off to fight alongside a unit. Cage gets dropped into the D-Day style assault on the northern French coast and is blasted with an unknown energy source before dying. He immediately wakes up 24 hours earlier and lives through the same day, again and again, eventually meeting war hero Rita Vrataski, who knows Cage’s condition all too well.
Edge of Tomorrow is most definitely a film valuing plot and premise over real character development. The one person with the most significant arc is Cage, but it’s pretty obvious where it’s going when he’s first introduced. Cage is a coward, comfortable hiding at his desk in Washington and sending other people to go to the fighting. Once we have the day repetition gimmick in place, then it’s not a broad jump to see that Cage will go through a redemption arc, become the hero Tom Cruise contractually demands that he be, and we get a happy ending that shouldn’t be quite so neatly tied up. The end of the movie undercuts some sacrifices the script tricks you into thinking mean anything. Essentially for all the trials, Cage goes through, and how his friends aid him, it has little impact on the story. This is very much a video game posing as a movie.
If you are familiar with Groundhog Day or any other piece of media in this subgenre, then you’ll likely know the plot beats as they are coming. You have the protagonist resetting the loop in the first act, thinking he had an elaborate dream. Once he realizes what is going on and tries to explain it to people around him, he’s seen as a lunatic. Eventually, he has a breakthrough, but when confronted with the enormity of his task, he wants to give up. That changes when he sees the overall stakes, and he has a moment of clarity when he figures out how he should go about getting people to believe the loop. Along the way, he falls in love with the apparent female love interest. The bad guy is defeated. The circuit is closed. Happily ever after. There is not a single deviation from the Groundhog Day formula other than tone because this is an action movie and that was a comedy. There is nothing clever done with the loop that you haven’t seen in that movie.
Edge of Tomorrow is slightly better than most summer blockbuster fare, but it’s still not very deep. Cage is a pretty by the book character with the sort of simplistic character arc Tom Cruise seems to always go for. I think I’m just over Tom Cruise as a leading man in action films. He’s reached an age where I’d rather see him going for more complex roles. I had always loved his turn in Magnolia back in 1999, but he seems to have settled into a cycle of playing generic action dudes, old enough to be the father of his leading ladies. I have to wonder at what point will Cruise give it up and retire from films or trying playing a new type of role.