I write the first third of a lot of these articles in my head before I actually write them. Everything after that tends to be a process of discovery. But that initial pre-planning tends to be where I come up with the best observations to later miscommunicate when I actually type the thing. Mainly though it helps me sort out what the article will be about, and helps me figure out how I feel about whatever the topic is. The funny thing about Edge of Tomorrow is that every time I started to think about it I started differently. Too many thoughts and things to address and consider and analyze.
First off, I suppose, is the natural assessment of quality. Edge of Tomorrow is very good indeed. It’s a funny kind of good though. It’s almost entirely devoid of tangible details that an average audience member could look to as signs of quality. Something like the Dark Knight was immediately recognized as “good” because of obvious, attention grabbing factors. Utterly apparent philosophizing and attention demanding performances abounded. This all meant someone with little to no understanding of film could watch it and spot the signs of value. Edge of Tomorrow doesn’t have that. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have some of these things. It has themes only slightly less apparent than Nolan’s. Themes of rebirth and reincarnation. It has good performances too. Tom Cruise comes to the role and seems hungry, like he’s trying to prove something again, throwing himself into the basic but entertaining character arc. Emily Blunt, on the other hand, comes across like an old pro who plays her character to a T with excellent efficiency. All this is just slightly too subtle for an average audience member to grasp.
It’s also not what makes the film excellent.
It takes a whole lot more than decent actors and some themes to carry a film, and what carries this film is the script. Edge of Tomorrow pretty much throws out conventional blockbuster structure, including three-act-structure and woodenly inserted prerequisite action scenes, in favour of a character driven approach. The time travel premise is followed through laterally, a lot like Time Crimes, but because of the Groundhog Day premise it has a few more massive jumps in subjective time. Mainly it’s concerned with letting us watch Tom Cruise grow as a character, frequently choosing to present certain developments in exactly the right way. For instance we don’t have to see Tom Cruise try and fail to save Emily Blunt at the farmhouse a million times, we just get to see her discover that. Instead of slowly delivering that development, the movie explains it all at once, making for a tighter, more gripping scene. The whole movie is almost skeletal, giving us character development and scenes and montages in the most minimal way possible, and it keeps the film fast-paced and fun.
There are, naturally, action scenes. Generally however they’re either plot devices or backdrop for character growth, not spectacle. The first and last action scenes come the closest to being typical, but they still feel more character based than the norm. The first scene, Tom Cruise’s first attempt at assaulting the beach, is a wonderfully gritty, grudging scene with a steady sense of forward momentum. It is jarring at the right moments and stressfully uneventful at others. Doug Limon smartly holds off on revealing the aliens until right near the end of this scene. It really helps to provide a sense of the inevitable failure the soldiers are enduring. It makes it clear that Tom Cruise needs the resets to get through this.
All these loops and restarts lead to an ending that doesn’t quite work though.
I like the ending from a tonal, thematic, and character standpoint. I really do. And I wanted it to work. I really did. But it doesn’t. Or, rather, we’re not given enough information to really justify it. If your final twist needs a fan theory to make any kind of sense, it’s not a success.
So here’s the normal timeline for Tom Cruise’s opening scenes:
Here’s how the respawn fits in:
Here’s where the final showdown with the Omega (it’s within a few hours of that morning) happens:
Here’s where he wakes up when he does kill the Omega:
The problem is he wakes up after killing the Omega to someone telling him the Omega is dead. I found one fan theory that feels about right (and am now expanding upon) – that Tom Cruise hijacking an Alpha’s power effectively makes the Omega mistake him for that specific Alpha and stop nourishing that Alpha, letting it die. We never see that, or are told that, but it seems likely within the presented explanation of the Omega’s power. So when Tom Cruise hijacks the Omega’s power at the end the same thing happens when he wakes up – the Omega dies off, basically forgetting he exists. Or perhaps Tom Cruise also seizes the Omega’s control over the Mimics, killing them all (and the Omega I guess?). There doesn’t seem to be any definitive solution presented within the movie. Also I suppose Tom Cruise continues to keep the Omega’s powers until he gets a blood transfusion/his cells regenerate? He could effectively ensure a perfect life for himself. He might even be functionally immortal now; especially if I’m right in thinking he could control Alphas. It’s problematic anyways, from a logic standpoint. Which is disappointing because it works in every other way.
It’s certainly a film that presents a lot to digest. It’s definitely good, and, if at all possible, should be supported. It’s such a wonderful counterpoint to the cookie-cutter blockbuster syndrome that dominates the theatres. It’s been a good summer, but this movie is weirdly unique even by the standards of a season that presented (and is presenting) a slew of interesting blockbusters Godzilla, Noah, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, which, with the exception of Guardians, which obviously I haven’t seen, all follow a far more conventional structure than Edge of Tomorrow. Okay, maybe not Noah. But the rest. Go see it, and try to appreciate what’s cool about it. Or at least go for badassery, because there’s a solid dose of that.