“That movie is basically Groundhog Day with aliens” – Joe Garrity
A friend of mine made that comment about this movie, and I wouldn’t doubt it if that was the exact statement the producers had in their heads when they were listening to the writers describe this story during the script-pitch session. It’s a similar response James Cameron probably got for Avatar: “So basically… it’s Dances with Wolves in Space“. Or what Todd Phillips got when he pitched The Hangover: Part II: “So, basically… it’s The Hangover except really shitty.”
Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. When a movie has a familiar, or recognizable story-arch, and one that you can make really sarcastic remarks regarding, it’s hard to get excited about it. One of the reasons I was initially dreading watching The Edge of Tomorrow was because I had an innate fear that this movie was just going to be another Oblivion, a movie which just couldn’t help itself from delving into every cliche science-fiction genre trope imaginable. Luckily Tom Cruise’s latest star-vehicle made up and then some for his previous debacle.
What separates Edge of Tomorrow and what makes it forgivable that the movie is basically a science-fiction spin-off of Groundhog Day is that the story-line of living the same day over and over again serves a wholly utilitarian purpose in science-fiction and action genre films. May I plug in another acute observation from one of my friends (paraphrasing):
“It’s like a videogame: you just keep hitting reset until you win” – Ben O’Leary
Thisis why Groundhog Day works as a sci-fi actioner. If you have a seemingly unbeatable enemy, what better way to figure out how to beat it other than trial test and the glorious “reset” button? Every single one of us has done this in video-games and every single one of us has wondered how amazing it would be in real life. But Edge of Tomorrow doesn’t stop there. The film cleverly, towards its end, relays one of the biggest fears that gamers are thankful isn’t real: what if the reset button disappears? Imagine buying a game and you only get about 10 chances to beat it with resetting. After that 10th chance, you HAVE to beat it otherwise your character dies and you have to throw the game away. Imagine how much mayhem that would cause among gamers. Rita (Emily Blunt) tells Cage (Tom Cruise), that the ability to reset can be taken away and the alien enemy is actively trying to do that. At this point, death is something that the characters realize they cannot escape, and they are then reduced to only a single chance to defeat their enemy. That’s when the film hits its peak… when the stakes are the highest. It’s augmented even further by the fact that immortality was once a reality, but is now gone. That’s much more gutting than never having it in the first place.
As far as Tom Cruise ‘star vehicles’ go, Edge of Tomorrow is the best one to date**. It cheekily references Cruise’s aging persona (he’s made fun of for being old and out of shape, and for the first time in his career, considered inferior to the younger much more able-bodied fighters in the film) while at the same time gives him an opportunity to do what he does best on screen (save the day) by giving him the ability to keep repeating his day multiple times. A superhuman ability to counter his failing physical biology. It also channels an unseeing relationship between Groundhog Day’s premise and the ability to reset in a video game. This is the type of thinking that should go into a summer popcorn movie. It doesn’t need to be ‘deep’ or meaningful on a narrative level, but it does need insightful thinking in regards to how its story is formulated and why it unfolds the way it does.
** in case you’re wondering, no I don’t consider Minority Report a star vehicle film… it’s a Steven Spielberg film which just happened to star Cruise and it’s too comprehensive to be considered a mere ‘entertainment’ movie.