22 June 2014

"Edge of Tomorrow" Stuck in Yesterday


In Edge of Tomorrow, a video game character's ability to reset or "respawn" is a very apparent metaphor (and intentional, according to this Hollywood Reporter interview with director Doug Liman). It occurred to me that the movie's central question could be "What if you had to keep playing a video game until you won?", which at first sounds intriguing. But on second thought, wouldn't it be more poignant and memorable a movie if it made me think about things like reincarnation, resurrection, or succeeding in life? The metaphor inside a metaphor is a bit convoluted. More interesting to me is the premise of a villain that can respawn and learn from its mistakes, sort of like the robots in The Incredibles or maybe the artificial intelligence of the xenomorph in the upcoming game Alien: Isolation.

It was Incredibles director Brad Bird who first piqued my interest in this movie when he tweeted the following:

Sure, he may be biased, being a sci-fi aficionado and having directed EoT star Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol. Then again, he is also the writer/director of some of my favorite movies, including those mentioned, The Iron Giant, and Ratatouille. That, and I was intrigued by his calling EoT "original." He made a similar pitch for Gravity, another movie that won me over and that inspired the amateur film study on this blog.

While EoT is not a sequel or a reboot, it is an adaptation of a Japanese book called All You Need Is Kill, and therefore not original in the sense of a "new idea." Bird suffered a lot of Twitter backlash on this point and so clarified two days later that he knew it was a book adaptation and simply meant "original" as "first film."

Now having seen it, I have to call "foul" on interpreting originality so loosely. As a fan of retellings, I have no complaints about recycling old ideas; however, I personally felt a little betrayed by his and critics' praise for the film as something unexpected and fresh. I did enjoy it, but I kept waiting for the originality I'd paid for, wishing I could reset my expectations. Like Tom Cruise's character in the movie, it's only on the edge of tomorrow because it's still stuck in yesterday.

To demonstrate, the following are plot points or other elements from the movie that draw from existing films (spoilers follow):

  1. Time loop: there's a whole list on Wikipedia. Personally, Source Code kept coming to mind.
  2. The Hive Mind -- soldier aliens conveniently die/shut down when central alien dies: Independence Day, The Phantom Menace, The Avengers.
  3. Aliens have acidic blood: Alien franchise.
  4. Aliens are tentacle-y monsters whose only sign of "intelligence" is the means and determination to conquer humans: Independence Day, Pacific Rim, etc.
  5. Mechas -- robotic armored suits: oh boy, where to begin...
  6. Tom Cruise saves the day: enough said.
  7. Strong Female Support System -- female character with ability to be the hero merely preps the actual hero, a man: The Matrix, Avatar, Tron: Legacy, The Lego Movie, How to Train Your Dragon franchise.
There are probably others but I should pause (or derail completely) to talk about that last one. The Dissolve's Tasha Robinson recently addressed this concern, calling it the "Trinity Syndrome" and providing filmmakers (and I would include all fiction writers) a checklist for avoiding the cliche "Strong Female Character," a phrase that too many interpret literally. Robinson calls it "such a simplistic, low bar to vault...more a marketing term than a meaningful goal." In other words, a formula:
Step 1: Add at least one (usually only one) woman completely capable of handling herself.
Step 2: Let her school the hero. The audience won't see that coming.
Step 3: Despite his incompetence, let the hero win her over.
Step 4: Emphasize Step 3 with romance and kissing and stuff.
Step 5: We're serious, they'd better fall in love!
Step 6: Have the woman sacrifice herself literally or figuratively so that the true hero (the man) can fulfill his destiny.
However, Robinson goes on to argue that Emily Blunt's character Rita in EoT is an exception to this complaint because "she's aspirational and inspirational, and just as exciting at the end of the movie as she is at the beginning." In other words, she remains relevant, never really taking a backseat to the protagonist.

...Except, well, she isn't the protagonist, which to me is kind of the point. It's not a question of whether she's a good character (flawed, interesting, etc.); she certainly is. It's a question of whether her role in the story is all that different from what we've already seen before. And I say no, it's not. Even her awesome propeller sword is just a live-action realization of any number of video game and anime weapons.

Again, all this is just a rebuttal of that claim to originality, which sent me in expecting something different from what I got. What I got was familiar, but sometimes familiar is fun and comforting. For example, the Aliens appeal is amplified by the presence of Bill Paxton, whose character is a surprising high point. Also, what's a sci-fi action flick without a convoluted time travel twist that requires us to analyze and argue its internal logic?

So on that note, here are my unanswered questions. If you have an explanation for one or more of these, please leave it in the comments!
  1. Why is Cage sent to the front lines so unceremoniously? Did I miss a line of dialogue explaining why General Brigham (gotta love Brendan Gleeson) felt justified in sacrificing a key war spokesman?
  2. Why are the aliens called Mimics? One soldier even wears a shirt printed with the words "Mimic This." Why? I noticed no shapeshifting, mimicry, or camouflage abilities.
  3. Why was everyone alive at the end? I get that Cage absorbed the Omega's blood and reacquired the looping ability, but wouldn't that just reset the day again, restoring both Cage's team and the Omega?


  1. Ok, I'm ready to discuss:

    1. Cage is sent because he was threatening to blackmail the General. So the general sent him to the front lines essentially as a punishment. Which works out because the news of him being a deserter covers the general's tracks sufficiently enough. Sets an example during wartime to those who consider bailing.

    2. There's one moment near the beginning of the show where a reporter on TV says the aliens can mimic or adapt to our tactics. That's the only mention of it, which is presumably where the name comes from.

    3. I talked pretty extensively with my friend about this, and it took us a while to come up with a conceivable theory. Here we go:

    Any time an Alpha dies, the Omega resets the day. I think it's more like the death of an alpha causes the reset. So an Alpha dies and the day, and most importantly, the Alpha resets. IF the Alpha dies and a human absorbs the blood, the Alpha who died doesn't reset, and the human becomes the trigger. So just like how when an Alpha dies and that is what triggers the reset, when the human with Alpha blood dies, he/she triggers the reset instead, just like how the Alpha would. The human effectively becomes the Alpha, as evidenced by how they shove that device in Cage's leg and he can see where the Omega really is.

    Ok, so Cage kills the Omega and absorbs his blood. The same thing happens with the Omega as does an Alpha when it dies. The Omega CANNOT reset, since the human, like with when they kill an Alpha, has effectively BECOME the Omega.

    Essentially, when a human absorbs blood of Alpha, they replace the Alpha in the reset world, and therefor the Alpha can't reset. Same applies to the Omega. Absorb Omega blood, you replace Omega, Omega doesn't reset.

    Granted, all of this doesn't explain why there was a "power surge" in the final reset day, but I'll forgive them that small issue.

    So how that Cage is the Omega, what if he can't get Rita to fall in love with him? why, he just kills himself and resets the day/weeks since all that happened! Cue Groundhog Day: The Sequel. It could totally work.

  2. 1. But wasn't he going to send him to the front lines before the blackmail threat? Hence the blackmail threat?

    2. Oh, so it's a reference to the loop ability. That makes sense.

    3. Huh. That actually makes sense too. The replaced looper doesn't respawn, as evidenced by the fact that the Alpha killed by Cage never reappears. (Right?) So Cage is the new Omega until he gets a blood transfusion or dies. But will he only stay dead if he passes the ability to someone else? Can the ability ever dissolve or disappear? Suddenly the ambiguous fate of Will Turner from Pirates comes to mind....