Edge of Tomorrow both numbs and entertains

Edge of Tomorrow both numbs and entertains June 6, 2014

Edge of Tomorrow, directed by Doug Liman

Edge of Tomorrow is one of those films that does not have a single original element but manages to combines all of its tropes in a way that is nonetheless entertaining. In this case, the pieces are Groundhog Day (repeating day), Ender’s Game (humans vs. aliens), and the Halo video games (supersuits and cool weapons). At the center of this coward-to-manhood tale stand proven action star Tom Cruise and the oddly-cast but compelling Emily Blunt.

For Cruise, the role of Major William Cage is a welcome shift from his typical role because he starts out as a wimp, a talking head from the Army that looks good on camera and can sell the nation on a war. You can’t send me into combat, he protests to western alliance commander General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson), but after a taser and a demotion, into combat he goes. This inciting incident damns him to the crucible of warfare by which his character is refined into a courageous, messiah-like hero. Aside from Emily Blunt simply gracing the screen with her presence, this is the film’s only point of redemption.

It’s unfortunate for Edge of Tomorrow that Ender’s Game came out late last year, because otherwise the aliens may have been interesting. Their gyrating, fanatic, octopus-insect-like bodies and movements make them a little scary at first, but whatever originality these so-called “mimics” have in form they lack in their nature. We learn that we need to think of these creatures not as individual beings, but rather as part of a larger, singular intelligence. Take out the “hive queen,” the central intelligence, and the rest instantly die away.

Thanks to a freak battlefield occurrence, where Cruise kills a one-in-a-million Alpha-alien before dying himself, he gains the power of time travel from the alien’s blood. This mysterious, invasive species, you see, can apparently manipulate time. As long as he dies within the day of his first death (an all-but-inevitable fate when he keeps getting deployed into an ambush), he finds himself living it all over again.

Yeah, it’s weird how they explain it in the film, too. This part of the plot requires a significant suspension of disbelief, and ultimately I couldn’t quite make the emotional jump into the film’s universe. Granted, I was able to accept the premise enough to enjoy it as an action flick and enjoy the comedic elements inherent in reliving the same day a million times. But when the protagonist dies – again – every couple minutes, well, it numbs us to the tragedy of the whole ordeal.

Rather than explore the psychological strain of living the same day over and over again, destined to die every time, we laugh at all the funny ways he manages to kill or maim himself. It’s good fun and all, but by the time we get to the kiss, it feels cinematically obligatory rather than fulfilling. And as goes the kiss, so goes the film.

The nature of time travel in Edge of Tomorrow provides a mind-bending complexity – as time travel stories always do, of course – but it’s the type of depth that triggers a thought process something like this: “I could think a lot more about the ‘rules’ of this whole time travel thing and how these aliens work, but if I did I’d probably find a bunch of plot holes, so I won’t.”

At that point, there’s nothing left for it but to kick your feet up and pass the popcorn.

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