Edge of Tomorrow (a.k.a Live Die Repeat) was directed by Doug Liman with a screenplay written by Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, and John-Henry Butterworth based on the novel All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka. It stars Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton, and Brendan Gleeson.
This review is for the film alone, although a few minor comparisons with the novel are drawn.
After their very first victory against an alien invading force known as “Mimics,” the United Defense Forces (UDF) plan a massive assault on France to retake Normandy. Major William Cage is asked to go along on the attack and film the operation. Cage is not very keen on the idea, however, having absolutely no combat experience. When he tries to bribe his way out of the situation, he’s arrested and thrown in with the troops in the J-Squad at Heathrow Airport.
The next day the UDF troops storm the beach but find that the Mimics are waiting for them, seemingly aware of their attack. The invasion fails disastrously and the death toll is massive. Cage tumbles along the battlefield and manages to stay alive long enough to encounter an unusual blue-colored Mimic – different from the rest – which attacks him. He detonates a clay-more mine, killing the Mimic and himself, as the Mimics acidic blood drips all over him.
Cage wakes up back Heathrow Airport, in the same place he was the day before. At first he suspects the attack was a just a dream, but as the day progresses everything happens just as it does in his “dream.” He’s reliving the same identical day, including the battle. He warns his commander and the J-Squad of the disastrous attack but no one takes him seriously. No matter what he does, he repeats the same day over and over without reason or consequence, waking back up in the exact same spot every time.
On some of the loops he meets Rita Vrataski in the battlefield, an expert soldier of the UDF, nicknamed the “Full Metal Bitch.” In most cases he sees her die before he does. When he tries to save her life, she seems to become aware of his condition, and before they both die she asks him to finder her when he wakes up. Cage does.
Of course, Rita does not remember him, but when Cage explains she understands everything. She also used to have the power to reset the day, but lost it some time ago. The ability to time-loop comes from the blood of the blue Mimic Cage killed on his first experience of battle. That’s how the aliens always had the upper hand. Rita plans to use Cage’s power to locate the central Mimic organism, the Omega, and destroy it, thus destroying the Mimics’ ability to loop time. In the meanwhile, Cage is tasked to train with Rita every day until they’re able to locate the Omega.
The loops continue without much progress. Cage becomes a much better fighter as a result of his training, though it hardly changes the outcome of the battle or their ability to get through it. He always dies, resetting the day, and most of the time he witnesses Rita die too. Over time he become emotionally attached to her.
When Cage gets a vision of the Omega’s location inside a German power plant, he and Rita go after it. It’s not easy as the Mimics are always in the way waiting for them. After endless instances of Rita’s repeated deaths, Cage decides to go alone. In the power-plant Cage doesn’t find the Omega and is instead ambushed by other Mimics. He realizes it’s a trap set for him, and barely manages to kill himself and reset the day.
Rita is disappointed to hear the news. Fortunately for them, there’s another way to locate the Omega’s whereabouts: a device built by Dr. Carter designed to connect with the Omega. Cage and Rita sneak into the military headquarters in London to steal a device that will enable them to see the real location of the Omega. They succeed and Cage injects the device into his leg, thereby discovering the Omega’s true location. It’s in Paris, inside what used to be the Louvre museum.
As they make their escape, the military forcefully intercepts their car. The arrest injures Cage, rendering him unconscious. When he wakes up, the nurse informs him that he received a blood transfusion to treat his injuries – which unbeknownst to her or anyone else, stripped him of his time-looping powers.
Seeing no other viable course of action, Rita and Cage decide to go to Paris and attempt to kill the Omega, whatever the cost. They recruit the J-Squad and fly to Paris to face the Omega head-on. The attack kills the entire J-Squad, though Cage and Rita make it inside the Louvre alive. Rita distracts an Alpha that’s chasing them so that Cage can make to the Omega with a handful of grenades. Rita dies, and so does cage, though not without detonating the grenades and hurling them towards the Omega. When the grenades explode, the Omega dies and its blood covers the nearly dead Cage.
Cage wakes up again earlier in the day, though this version of the day is different. A strange power surge was detected in Paris, after which all Mimics were rendered inoperative. It seems that the war is over.
Given the long string of failures that has resulted from trying to adapt Japanese source material into American films (e.g. Death Note, Ghost in the Shell, Dragon Ball, and to a lesser extent, Oldboy), Japanophiles have become justifiably hostile to such adaptations. Japanese media in itself is popular, but it seems to become toxic the moment American hands touch it. Whether this is due to simple incompetence or impenetrable cultural barriers, I don’t know, but the market still exists, and American film producers have no intention of stopping (as an American remake of Akira seems to be next in line).
It’s not all gloom, however. The movie I’m reviewing today, Edge of Tomorrow, (a.k.a. Live Die Repeat) stands out as one of the few exceptions in the trend of disappointments. It is refreshingly successful and entertaining without sacrificing any of the wit or intellect that goes along with its science fictional premise. And while the film deviates little from the original novel by Hiroshi Sakurazaka (most of the changes involve condensing the plot to fit the movie’s 2 hour runtime), it feels surprisingly Western in its sensibilities.
A big part of that, of course, is the great talent and dedication displayed by the leading duo, Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt, whose chemistry on-screen does a lot to add credibility to their characters’ ordeal. Tom Cruise was an ideal choice for the role of Cage. He has just the right acting experience to perfectly capture the transformation that his character undergoes throughout the film: from a manipulating smug coward (in the style of Magnolia and Jerry Maguire) to a stoic hero willing to sacrifice himself for humanity (like his most recent action heroes). His performance is powerful yet deliciously understated, just like most of the movie. In the most climactic scene of the movie, when Rita tells Cage “I wish I had the chance to know you better,” Cruise does not need to say anything in return. Dialogue would have ruined that scene, made it cheesy. Instead, only a brief battered look from Cruise is enough to convey that unlike her, he did get the chance to know Rita Vrataski and fall in love with her.
The same goes for Blunt, although her role is by design a supporting one. This is very much Cruise’s movie. Rita Vrataski exists mainly as an emotional anchor for the protagonist, a funnel through which Cage’s transformation is allowed to happen. Nevertheless, she’s neither a pawn nor a damsel in distress. The film, just as its source material, subverts all genre expectation of male and female characters by placing Rita in the position of power. She’s in control, she’s the better soldier, and she’s the one hell-bent on saving the world at the cost of her life. Cage’s pivotal role in the fight is only a result of luck and circumstance, one that has no chance of succeeding without Rita’s help.
The science-fictional premise in Edge of Tomorrow is interesting but not particularly original. Time-loops are ubiquitous in science fiction, and so are alien invasions. The most notable example that will surely come to the viewer’s mind is Harold Ramis’ Groundhog day. The similarities are obvious (sans the aliens) because they’re inescapable. One can only change so much without stumbling on the same beats and moments that define this kind of plot. The novel’s author, Hiroshi Sakurazaka, even cited Groundhog Day as “research” material for his work (although, strangely enough, Sakurazaka’s novel bears far less resemblance to Groundhog Day than the film adaptation does). But to consider Edge of Tomorrow as a simple riff on Ramis’ work would be somewhat unfair. It’s a totally different beast: a conceptual, character-driven science fiction story that tries to emulate the repeating nature of video-games, successfully transposing it into film-narrative.
Edge of Tomorrow makes wonderful use of film-making conventions to keep the repeating narrative interesting. One example is the audience’s ability to fill in the gaps between scenes, assuming that nothing noteworthy happened. In the first loop we see Cage’s unpleasant introduction with the J-Squad and then cut to the battle on the beach. The in-between is indeed unnecessary. In subsequent loops, however, we do get to see glimpses of what happened in those gaps as they become relevant, as we get to know our main character more intimately. It’s a great way to reveal plot and explore near-identical iterations of the same day under new light.
Regarding the plot itself, Edge of Tomorrow is very much a story about its characters. The novel contains more expository information about the Mimics, their origins and mode of operation, which the movie correctly chooses to leave out in the interest of a more concise and well-paced story. The story benefits from its tight focus on the two protagonists. There’s no need to get bogged down in details that work great in a novel but would slow down the flow of the film, even if some of the “science” in Edge of Tomorrow felt rushed and hand-wavy. Nothing is inconsistent or nonsensical, but it seems rather unrealistic that Dr. Carter (the scientist) would be able to understand and manipulate technology that is centuries beyond his own.
I was a bit disappointed with the film’s look, from the design of the aliens to most of the action sequences, which despite Liman’s and Cruise’s insistence for authenticity and grit, were still riddled with dizzying fast cuts and unbearable camera shakiness that plague most action films today. While the battle scenes on the beach clearly sought to mimic the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan, they had none of its style and impact. Director Doug Liman and his DP, Dion Beebe, opted for a conventional style rather attempt something new. It works, but I wish the filmmakers experimented a little more with the form to match with the plot’s repeating structure.
Another questionable choice for the story was the kiss between Cage and Vrataski towards the end of the film. It certainly humanizes Rita, who until that moment appeared a bit too stiff, but at the same time it does not seem entirely consistent with her character. After all, from her perspective she’s only known a Cage a day. Why kiss him then when for the rest of the movie she hardly even spoke to him about things other than the battle? On the other hand, she understand what he’s gone through and at that moment they’re both about to walk into certain death. Her emotions may have gotten the better of her in that one instance. Still, it is a moment that, at the very least, will raise some eyebrows from the audience.
Edge of Tomorrow, though not perfect, is a solid science fiction movie that knows how to put its characters on the front line (literally!). It’s a unique presentation on a familiar subject and demonstrates that one may still hold out hope for a successful adaptation of Japanese media into an American market.