How weird is it that the last post I put up was about the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, Cause and Effect, and that this one is about the recent movie, Edge of Tomorrow? Not planned at all. In fact, until this morning, I didn’t even think I was going to the movies at all today. Bizarre coincidence. Or statistical node, I guess.
In case you don’t know why I’m noting this, it’s because both of these stories follow the now-tried and tested (thanks to the movie Groundhog Day) story trope of having time reset over and over, allowing the protagonist to repeat actions, get smarter at dealing with them, struggle with the utter futility of it all, and finally overcome the odds and see some breakthrough. (Actually, Cause and Effect manages to avoid some of that classic progression by introducing the device that none of the characters actually know what’s happening to them.) Edge of Tomorrow follows this pattern pretty routinely, although it has to force some of the points at times.
The story (Spoilers, here) begins with Tom Cruise playing a jerk (no surprises there – his character is sort of the same as the guy he played at the start of A Few Good Men, or War of the Worlds). Several years prior, earth was invaded by really bad aliens, who landed in Germany and began to spread out from there. When the movie begins, they’ve taken over most of Europe. Humans have banded together to fight back and developed nifty exo-skeletons with which to do it (which require only minimal training to operate), and Cruise’s character is a public relations officer working for the US armed forces, convincing people to enlist for what everyone assumes will be the big final push against the baddies. He arrives in London to say hello to a general and suddenly finds himself assigned to be deployed with everyone else. There is no real explanation for this – it sounds like he’s supposed to provide media coverage of the invasion, but one can only assume that his unseen commanding officer back in America has had enough of his jerkiness, and has decided to get rid of him via science fiction version of the Normandy Invasion. Cruise resists, ends up arrested, and is railroaded into joining a squad of grunts and dropped into combat without any of that minimal training.
Of course, he dies, but not before getting off that one good shot that kills one of the aliens before he himself is killed But not just any of the aliens – it’s a particularly big one that dies spraying it’s icky alien blood all over Cruise, which gives him the strange superpower to travel through time.
More accurately, he resets the day, to the point when he first joins the squad of grunts. It turns out as he goes along that the aliens themselves have the power to control time, which explains their constant victories, and why the planned invasion seems to be failing so badly. They accidentally gave Cruise their power when he died with all their blood in his system. Cruise learns all this from a super-soldier played by Emily Blunt, who plays her part with an astounding lack of body fat. Blunt’s character used to have the same power as Cruise, but lost it when she had a blood transfusion. She is able tell Cruise enough to keep the plot moving, and they spend much of the rest of the film trying to reach this spot in Germany where they think they will find the one main alien whose death will mean the death of all the others (ie, this movie’s Death Star).
Cruise lives this day over and over again, getting further each time, until the movie contrives to give him a low point in which he fails to use any of his knowledge to avoid Blunt getting killed for the umpteenth time (really, that’s what happens – he goes back to a farmhouse that he knows that she’s going to die at, feebly attempts to stop things from happening, fails, and then gets depressed about it. All of this instead of, you know, avoiding that particular spot.)
Eventually, they find out that the spot in Germany is actually a trap, and that the real Death Star is in France, at the Louvre – because the aliens like art. Or they hate it. Either way. Discovering this leads to a situation where Cruise is injured and hospitalized, and horror of horrors, has a blood transfusion. Which means he’s lost his time travel powers. This means that the big bad has now regained its ability to restart the day whenever it wants. We then learn that the Big Bad Alien is really very stupid, because it fails to do just this when the now non-prescient Cruise, Blunt, and the aforementioned Squad of Grunts go AWOL, fly to France, and try to kill it. I give this long plot description because it seemed the best way to describe some of the movie’s flaws. In spite of its largely good reviews, it’s actually abruptly paced and full of a number of sort of stupid plot developments, story contrivances, and awkward moments of exposition. The action scenes are good but sort of standard, with nothing really inspired. To cap it off, there is an absurdly convenient happy ending tacked on at the finish which one can imagine a sci-fi justification for, but certainly feels like a cheap way of providing a “satisfying” ending for the viewer. This is too bad because the movie starts really positively. It gives you the background of the alien invasion in a gripping montage of sights and sounds, and then proceeds to tell the story of the first “run through” with quite a lot of humor and style. There is an interesting World War II vibe going on, with the Normandy Invasion and the UK holding out against an overrun Europe. Bill Paxton shows up as Cruise’s sergeant near the beginning, and is fantastic. Somehow, he has in recent years transitioned from that guy who was in Aliens and Twister into an actor who has been a lot of fun to watch (see Agents of SHIELD). I enjoyed watching Cruise try to come to grips with his situation in his early “resets”, and some of his death moments were priceless. But it felt like the movie just couldn’t sustain its premise, with it’s hard-to-swallow explanations of what was going on, and pedestrian character arc for the star. So while I’d say it wasn’t a complete waste of time, I can’t really bring myself to recommend it either.