Tom Cruise’s latest pic hasn’t been tearing up the box office, but it has been well received (as of this posting, it’s sitting at an 89% on Rotten Tomatoes with an average score of 7.4/10). It’s an interesting movie on a number of fronts, and one that Brett and I, at the very least, had some fun with. Not to say that there weren’t a few issues, but we’ll get to that as well.
This discussion WILL include spoilers and more or less assumes you’ve seen Edge of Tomorrow, so if you haven’t seen the movie yet and are looking for something that will be a bit easier to digest, you may want to check out our review first.
Our own Brett Harrison Davinger joined me for this discussion. Brett, kick us off.
Brett: I agreed very much with your review. I enjoyed the film a lot more than I thought I would, but I’m not as enthusiastic about it as many people seem to be. (Though it’s nice that people are enthusiastic about this.) As you said in your review, “there’s very little of significance in the movie…”
I still thought there was a lot to like about it. In my article about post-apocalyptic movies, I talked about how the three I focused on (Elysium, Oblivion, and After Earth) seemed so dour. Edge of Tomorrow had definite fun and excitement about it. Tom Cruise (as Major Cage), who I thought was fine as the lead, wasn’t some broody hero moping over his fate, he figured out his “purpose” and went with it with gusto. And the movie had a surprising amount of humor. The scene where Cage tries to roll under the truck the first time was a genuine laugh-out-loud moment.
Tim: Yes, let’s start there, because I think the humor was something that surprised a lot of people, myself included. And (this is digressing a bit) isn’t it kind of morbid that we all laughed so hard at a guy getting run over? But it goes to Cage, I think. Major Cage is such a coward. He’s not an action hero. He doesn’t even seem like he’s in that good shape. We’d expect him to screw up a few times, and he does. It’s even kind of funny seeing how freaked out he is when he’s dropping onto the beach the first few times. There’s the whole gag about how he doesn’t even know how to work the safety on his gun.
Brett: And one thing I appreciated was that they didn’t reuse the same jokes over and over. Obviously, everything comes back to Cage living the same day over and over again, but director Doug Liman (who turns out to be really good at epic disaster action) and screenwriters Christopher McQuarrie (who also wrote Cruise’s Valkyrie and Jack Reacher and is up to direct Mission Impossible 5), Jez Butterworth, and John-Henry Butterworth keep doing different twists on the premise or introducing new fodder out of which to make dark comedy.
Tim: That central conceit was handled excellently. The obvious point of comparison, just given the proximity to release, is the time travel mechanic in Days of Future Past, and I thought this worked infinitely better.
Brett: I think it’s because of the importance of time travel – or rather temporal displacement – in each movie. Days of Future Past wasn’t really about that, that was just an excuse to get to the 1970s adventure. It gave a reason for the quest (and for Wolverine to be there, because all those movies need Wolverine), but it was more a Macguffin than anything. Edge of Tomorrow was solely about the wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey, operating within those parameters, and all the fun you can have with that premise.
Tim: Absolutely. Watching Cage mock the sergeant was hilarious, as was the second meeting with the science guy who helps Cage and Blunt’s character, Rita Vrataski. Cage motors through his rehearsed routine, including how many fingers the guy had behind his back. That was the other part of the mechanic that was handled so well for me. Often, we saw the progression as Cage figured out how to overcome an obstacle in his way, but the movie also wasn’t shy about leaping forward, implying (like when they make it to the house in the countryside) that Cage has lived through the events being shown several times before, and expecting the audience to keep up.
Brett: It also had one of those moments for me where the movie anticipated one of the questions I was asking. Right around the time I was thinking about how exhausting it must be for Cage to go through the same things again, and wondering if he ever had a chance to relax, sleep, or basically have time to think and strategize, they have the scene where he leaves the camp and goes to the bar and sees London under attack.
Tim: Another reason this film worked as well as it did – some quality plotting. Cage had a reason to be at the bar and found out about the London attack by accident, but it felt like something organic to the story, not an event put on for his benefit.
Brett: Speaking of plotting, a major reason this movie worked as well as it did was because it kept itself centered. It focused almost exclusively on the main plot without the bloat or unnecessary diversions present in so many modern blockbusters, especially those that go to needless two-and-a-half hour lengths. Initially, I was wondering if Master Sergeant Farell (Bill Paxton, who is really underappreciated and almost always very fun; he saved the second half of Agents of SHIELD) or General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) had some particular beef with Cage because they were being so antagonistic towards him. Anywhere from some sort of personal animosity that would end up playing a role later in the film that Cage would atone for to maybe they were working with the villains to stop people with Cage’s power. But they weren’t that at all. I’m just so used to irrelevant twists or subplots in movies that not having those is so refreshing.
Tim: Speaking of, I do have to voice one of my biggest complaints with the movie: the kiss at the end. That felt so completely out of character, so completely unnecessary. Cage and Rita have very minor hints of romance over the course of the film, but it’s nearly swallowed whole by the platonic aspects of their relationship, and moreover, their mutual focus on the end goal. I suppose the rationale is that there at the end, when all the stress is on, that’s when such things would be unearthed. But the rest of the movie never did enough to suggest that they actually had a budding romance, and it never needed to. I wished they’d left that particular Hollywood convention out because it felt so perfunctory, like somewhere along the line an executive told them they had to include it for “demographic reasons” or some nonsense.
Brett: I agree. I know it’s a typical trope, the kiss before the final battle between two people who have seen it all and been through it all, but Rita didn’t really have the emotional connection with Cage as he had with her. Whether it’s focus group-initiated or part of the “Save The Cat” philosophy, I don’t want to say it seemed “out of place” but it only seemed in place because we know the bullet points these movies generally hit.
Then again, Rita did mention having to watch someone she loved die 100 times when she had the power, so maybe she realized Cage had the same feelings she had for her fallen lover, and she was kissing “him” (not Cage, the other guy) good-bye.
Tim: Hmmm, possible. I hadn’t thought of that. Not sure I buy that’s what was happening, but I’ll allow the possibility.
Brett: I’m not saying I buy it either, but it’s always nice to throw possible alternative readings out there.
Tim: As long as we’re talking about Hollywood-y stuff towards the end, we may as well talk about the ending itself. What did you make of bit where Cage gets to continue his magic life cycle after the ending?
Brett: For starters, I want to make it clear that I don’t think it was all a death dream. I am so, so tired of people saying that every ending is the death dream of the main character. You can dislike an ending, but don’t make up your own using the oldest trick in the book to provide you with some sort of closure. I’m sorry, this has just been bothering me for awhile.
Anyway, back on target, I felt a bit conflicted. I’m not particularly a fan of “happy” endings, especially forced ones. It makes me think of the final scene in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang where they mock that particular convention. But because of the tone and the relative levity of the rest of Edge of Tomorrow, I also think would have seemed a bit out of place for it to end with everyone dead, cities destroyed, and the protagonist drowned. In the other movies, I talked about in my post-apocalyptic piece they all feature (read: obsess over) martyrdom and sacrifice, and I liked that this movie didn’t fall victim to that because it’s so tired and lacking the emotional punch needed for the death to mean anything.
Then there’s the other angle to this. Does he still have super reincarnation powers? If he lives to 90 will he reincarnate and relive the final day of his life. What about sleeping – could he stay alive for three days, die, and then come back to life? Would he do so on the third day or on the first day.
As for the ending, maybe I would have liked a sense that he realized he no longer had the power (both Rita and Cage mention they could feel when it was gone) or some closure to that storyline. But, it’s a movie about a guy reliving the same day over and over again; I had already bought into the premise, I couldn’t start questioning the mechanics too much.
Tim: Ooh, I really disagree. Even though the film was so, not lighthearted exactly, but prone to making grave humor, I thought it would have made a lot of sense for the main character to actually die at the end. Maybe that’s too Shakespearean of me, but I was a little disappointed (though perhaps not surprised) the movie didn’t have the guts to kill off its main character.
Brett: Part of my acceptance with it goes back to Elysium and Oblivion where the main characters die as part of this ultimate tragedy that just doesn’t connect to the audience. This movie was so unlike those two that I wouldn’t want to see it succumb to same fate. I would be disappointed for Cage to die in a traditional hero’s sacrifice. That’s been done before, and so often, and I don’t think it would have exactly fit with the rest of the film. However, if they could have had him or Rita die (and stay dead) in such a way that it kept with the dark humor of the rest of the movie then I would be more likely to accept it. Or maybe have some twist that wasn’t just “everything’s okay, and everyone’s alive, so don’t worry because everyone’s happy.” I’m not against Cage’s death or dying per se, I just wouldn’t want it to be some overwrought SACRIFICE MARTYR JESUS POSE.
Tim: Fair enough, and I think it goes back to where we both started in our reactions to this movie – a lack of substance. It was hard for Cage’s death or life to signify a whole lot, because metaphorically, thematically, his actions didn’t mean much. At the end of the movie, he’s saved humanity from the mysterious space Nazis, but beyond that immediate relief (and some character arc from coward to hero), so what?
Brett: While I agree, I ironically found his character more interesting than those in the other recent post-apocalyptic movies where they were all so serious and acting as though they had the weight of their world on their shoulders (as opposed to Cage who actually did). I think he had enough of a humanity and enough “realistic” reactions to be someone I had no problem following for two hours. His actions might only have the immediate relief, but would the movie have worked if there wasn’t something to Cage’s character that made him worth following?
Tim: Oh, on that point I totally agree. He’s surprisingly well drawn, and in much the same way that so much of this movie works. The film isn’t shy about stating its goals. Cage is a coward, but the fate of humanity is in his hands (though the film thankfully stays small in scope). The plot installs a critical path that the characters know – they have to get to place X where they must kill enemy Y.
Brett: Like I said earlier, just having that basic path ended up benefiting the movie tremendously. We don’t need to know all about the aliens, their planet, their overall schemes. We don’t need subplots featuring everyone’s lives. We don’t need to follow non-Cage, non-Rita characters. It’s just “you need to kill this Thing, so kill it, and now there’s a time limit.”
Tim: We even have a “Your princess is in another castle!” moment with the Omega (to complete the Mario metaphor there). I don’t think we need to spend a lot of time talking about how the movie sets up surprisingly like a video game, but I did find it kind of funny that video game movie adaptations have had so much trouble getting off the ground in large part (it seems to me) because they can’t figure out how to deal with a game narrative’s reliance on player agency. This movie reverse-engineered the whole thing, and it works. You said earlier that Cage is a relatable character because he does stuff that we would in his situation, and I think that’s absolutely spot on. He stands in for the “player” (i.e. the viewer) so well that we never worry about not being able to navigate the battlefield ourselves.
Brett: I wish I had a better segue, but one other thing I enjoyed about the movie was the opening montage where Cage, as the military’s spokesperson, goes on all the all the cable news shows promoting the supersuits and being a charming public relations agent. (Of course, you wonder why nobody recognized him considering how he seemed to be everywhere, but I digress.) It was a nice introduction to what was going on in the world without going into too much detail or making it seem overly catastrophic. It was also a legitimate way that our world would respond to such an event whereas a lot of similar movies would have just excised the “everything’s fine, everything’s great, everything’s under control” portion of destruction and immediately jumped to doom.
Tim: Yeah, it’s really interesting, actually – I’m reading World War Z right now, and there’s a very similar mass-media reaction to conflict there. I think I mentioned it in my review, but I would have loved it if this played a bigger part in Edge of Tomorrow. I’m not sure how you do that, but I think if they’d figured out a way to, it would have infused the movie with a lot of weight.
Brett: I personally think that in this case less would have been more. I liked what they did, but they hit the elements they needed to and moved onto the crux of the movie. Doing it any more could have caused it to lose focus or end up falling into the trap of a lot of other movies – really bad satire.
Tim: True. It would have made for a very different movie.