So Edge of Tomorrow, directed by Doug Liman, is basically Groundhog Day with Mech vs Alien warfare. If that doesn’t excite you then you don’t have a soul and I would ask you to leave. But while the premise is solid what really separates Edge of Tomorrow from the competition is the link between its mechanics and its theme.
The story is that the world has been invaded by a race of aliens called Mimics and, using the power of Mech-suits, humanity has taken up arms against them. Cage (Tom Cruise) is a military officer who is in charge of marketing recruitment to the army. That is, until he’s sent to the frontlines before the big offensive and promptly shits himself. On the battlefield he runs into the war hero Rita (Emily Blunt) who dies. Then he kills a rare breed of Mimic and gains a special ability: any time he dies, the day resets. Now Cage is forced to relive the day of the battle again and again until he and Rita find a way to defeat the Mimics.
I joked about how Edge of Tomorrow is like Groundhog Day but honestly it is closer to a video game. Now I don’t play a lot of video games but I watched this movie with a friend who does and he noted that how smoothly Edge of Tomorrow incorporates its mechanics into its narrative is an indictment of video games that can’t. It feels very pure and aside from facilitating the film’s conflict and character journeys, the mechanics also shape how the action is portrayed. It shows us how bad the first couple attempts go, with key events sprinkled throughout. As Cage becomes more competent he goes from failing hilariously to bad-ass in some of the best montage sequences I’ve seen in recent years. A beautiful mixture of action and comedy that entertains and gratifies without ever losing touch with its theme. That right there is mechanical perfection.
So what is this theme I keep talking about? It’s futility. More specifically the sense of futility a soldier can experiences in war. The montages turn bitter-sweet and what we thought was going to be a cool action packed shoot ’em up, turns into a meditation on soldier psychology while still being a cool, action packed shoot ’em up. The best part is that it’s all happening within the mechanics of the narrative. No one has a scene where they talk about the horrors of war, instead they talk about their own experiences and are human about it. My favorite scene in the whole movie is the one where Cage and Rita are in the farm-house. It’s a scene that shows how unassailable opposition and a perceived lack of impact can weigh on the soldier’s mind and it all comes from the characters experiences and how they have shaped their thinking.. I shouldn’t be excited by that because that should be the norm but sadly it isn’t so I reserve the right to titter like a schoolgirl. Tee-hee-hee.
This was obviously an incredible balancing act both in writing and direction but I really want to talk about how versatile Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt were as the leads. Emily Blunt being able to play a character nick-named “The Full-Metal Bitch” convincingly while still being able to show the vulnerabilities that such a character might possess gives me a lot of hope for her future projects. Cruise manages to somehow be even more impressive by playing a weaselly coward, his typical action role and the numbed soldier. It really is his best work in years.
In conclusion, Edge of Tomorrow exploits its central mechanic to the best of its abilities in order to create a deeper discussion of its central theme. It is a rare example of mechanical perfection in the genre film that deserves to be looked at it.
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