There’s not a lot that’s original in The Edge of Tomorrow. Then again, there’s not a lot that’s original in a chocolate cake and, damn, don’t I love chocolate cake?
The ingredients have all been seen before. An alien force has arrived on Earth. The military is fighting back. The army has cool robot suits. The alien has one and only one key weakness. A scientist somehow knows absolutely everything about the alien, despite the fact that they’d have no way of knowing even half the things they assert. And a heterosexual white male actor keeps reliving the same day over and over again.
The set up to The Edge of Tomorrow is particularly dumb. Tom Cruise plays a military spin doctor. For utterly no reason whatsoever, a general decides that the spin doctor will now fight on the front line. The spin doctor doesn’t like that plan and tries to bribe his way out of fighting on the front line. This causes the spin doctor to be tasered, demoted, and sent to the front line without any combat training at all.
Despite the stupidity of the set up, the film works surprisingly well. When Tom Cruise dies and finds himself waking up to replay the day, the sins of the set up are quickly forgotten. The film uses video game tropes (like the extra life) to carry the story forward. Unlike other films where the video game tropes become overwhelming, this film plays with them expertly.
Where the film becomes uncomfortable is in its underlying message. The military in this world is entirely unrestrained. It occupies a pseudo-political place in the narrative of the film, deciding events in absence of legitimate democratic authority. But it’s not the military that succeeds in the end: it’s a single male rejecting the authority of military command in order to (almost) single handedly take down the threat. Tom Cruise is the hero of the survivalist, one-man-and-his-gun protagonist. This character is also found in the ‘lone crazy scientist who just happens to be correct about everything’ (played rather nicely by Noah Taylor).
Despite the awkward politics, this is a fun film. Not only does it have a good sense of humour, its narrative device means that there are no low points to the film (if a scene drags too much, Tom Cruise dies and another thread of the story can be explored). This is helpful, because it distracts from the film’s problems — why does the military give an expensive weapon to an untrained soldier? Why do the protagonists of the film get emotionally closer and closer, even though one of them has her emotions reset each day? And why the crap did an alien force come to Earth with one, giant weakness that immediately cripples its invasion? Was the film deliberately written in a way so that Tom Cruise wouldn’t have to act?
Go see it.