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In sci-fi movies, time-travel and time loops have been a source for many entertaining and often thought-provoking films. With Edge of Tomorrow (sometimes Live. Die. Repeat.), the classic trope gets a military send up with aliens attempting to conquer the world. It stars Tom Cruise as a non-combat ready soldier named Cage, who is thrust into the horrors of war when he tries to snake his way out of a public affairs operation that would put him too close to the fighting. When he threatens to blackmail his commanding officer (Brendan Gleeson), he is arrested for his efforts, stripped of his rank and assigned to J Squad, a front lines troop with infamous casualty rates. Cruise’s co-star is Emily Blunt, playing Rita Vrataski, a hero of mankind’s only victory so far, a fearsome warrior with uncanny combat skill who has galvanized the military fighting force.
Directed by Doug Liman, the story centers on Cage’s first battle, an assault on the French shores called Operation Downfall. Panicked and unskilled with the heavily-armed exosuit each soldier wears, he scrambles along the beach as the enemy slaughters everyone, even Rita, whom he sees for the first time in real life, when she dies right beside him. His death is also inevitable, and when a massive blue ‘Mimic’ alien scurries up beside him, looking unlike the hordes of yellow ones, Cage uses a Claymore mine to kill it, dousing himself in its acidic blood. He dies horrifically but suddenly wakes up yesterday morning. The day repeats. Once he understands what it happening, he dies over and over and over, finally making contact with Rita, who confesses she knows what is happening. She had the power once, too. It’s how she became a hero. Now the two need to use Cage to fight their way to the enemy leader, the Omega, and defeat the invasion once and for all.
The film is a marvelous bit of sci-fi and action, based on the 2004 Japanese graphic novel All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka. With some spectacular war footage, reminiscent of the Normandy scenes in Saving Private Ryan, the visual effects and cinematography are breathlessly good. But it’s Christopher McQuarrie‘s screenplay that keeps this would-be mindless thriller ahead of the pack with some intelligent, challenging dialog and set pieces. The characters are very well-developed and with such a compelling narrative, it makes this one of the best ever made in the genre. There are any number of great moments in the film, but there is one in particular that merits a closer look, a turning point for Cage and a highly revealing one for the audience.
If doing the same thing over and over for hundreds of days has done anything for Cage, aside from working his way closer to the enemy, it is that he has learned much about the woman who is fighting beside him. Rita is a hardened soldier, an isolated, introspective person who rarely speaks, and when she does, it is with conviction and intent. Yet Cage sees through this, to an inner pain, a vulnerability that weakens him. Watching her, listening to her, sometimes seeing her die day in and day out has taken its toll on him. But it’s also drawn him close.
Rita’s plan for defeating the aliens is simple. Each day, Cage learns a strategy for bringing he and her to the Omega, a giant central core that is the brain and heart of the hive mentality of the Mimic invasion. With Cage’s new abilities, he is connected to it and has visions of its location. All he needs to do is study the failures of each day, die, and make adjustments.
So he does. Every day inching off the battle on the beach, through a trailer park, onto the highway and ever nearer to a site in Germany where he ‘sees’ the Omega. All the while though, he sinks further in love with Rita as she reveals a little more about herself with each passing day, even though for her, every day with him is the first. He understands this, is patient and caring, but naturally, as his feelings evolve, begins to hurt more while seeing her suffer at the end of each failed mission.
One crucial part of Cage’s path to the enemy is at an abandoned farm house and estate. They discover a small helicopter draped in a tarp in the rear of one of the barns, once used for crop dusting. She immediately sees the potential of it, but Cages smiles and suggests they just siphon the fuel for the car they had to leave on the road. She refuses but as she works to undo the moorings, winces in pain from an injury sustained on the beach.
Cage brings her into the barn and field dresses her wounded shoulder as she presses to find the keys for the chopper. He makes a case to leave it or at least wait until morning since it will be dark soon. Their exosuits have lost their power and there is surely supplies they could salvage back at the man house. She cracks sarcastically about starting a fire and opening a bottle of wine before drawing her pistol and thinking it would be better if she just shot him and reset the day. He balks and tells her to hold on, drink some coffee he’s made and give him some time to find the key, though he’s obviously stalling. She allows him ten minutes. Then she’ll kill him.
But he makes a tiny error. When offering her coffee, he gives her three sugars, something only he would know if he’d done this before. And he has. Many, many times. Angrily, she stands and demands to know where the keys are, since he must have figured this all out before. Realizing he can’t lie, he confesses and reveals they are in his pocket. He’s also taught himself how to fly the chopper, mostly.
She takes the keys from him and heads for the back gate, but Cage shouts at her back, “Rita, if you start that engine you die. It’s as far as you go, no matter what I do. It’s as far as you ever make it.” The implication is clear. For who knows how many times he’s been here, for as much as he’s tried to figure a way to keep her in the battle, he’s failed. In the fight to get to the Omega, this is where Rita ends. If she starts the chopper.
She doesn’t listen. She’s too committed to the mission, a soldier who acts now and can’t see the futility of the situation. She demands he get in the helicopter and try but he won’t. Instead, he pleads for her stay. He explains that there are Mimics buried in the field just beyond the barn and no matter how they have tried to both make it out, due to their limited defenses, she always dies. The only thing they haven’t tried is for her to hide in the house and wait. He tells her there is no chance for her. And if he does make to the enemy and kill it, then there is no reset. She will be lost forever.
“Why does it matter what happens to me?” she counters, still sitting in the chopper. He looks at her with great ache in his eyes, understanding that for her, she’s known him for less than a day, but for him, it’s been untold weeks or longer. “I wish I didn’t know,” he says, “but I do.”
We know a little about Rita, too. She is not easy to give details of her life. She seems a cold and pragmatic fighter, the armor she dons one of physical and emotional importance. We know that Rita was once just like Cage, a soldier with the ability to redo every day’s fight. She had the Omega connection and used the power to defeat the Mimics at the battle of Verdun, the only fight man has won. But she lost it and now Cage has it. But while it made her a better soldier and a hero that inspires others, it left her savagely cold-hearted and remorseless. We learn why in the car on the way to the farmhouse.
While Cage banters with her to learn more about her, he offers details she’s mentioned before, including her middle name, or so Cage presumes. “Peyton” however, she says, is just a lie she’s mostly like said to shut him up, as were other tidbits about her past. But one is surely not. In a serious moment, she tells of something dark. She loved a man named Hendrix, a soldier who, like she is to Cage, fought beside her as they tried to win the day. She watched him die three hundred times all in vivid detail. It scarred are for good. “It’s just war,” she bitterly remarks, but we know it’s much more than that. So now, as she realizes that she is Hendrix to Cage, she recognizes his feelings and it fills her with fear. Exhausted and turned dead inside by the war she has fought for so long, sometimes over and over, she cares little about herself, only the result and so, accepting Cage’s confession, leans into the cockpit and turns the key.
Just as he said, the Mimic comes and obliterates the chopper. When he’s finally able to kill it, he rushes to her side, like he most surely has always done, and watches her die. But before she goes, she reaches to hold his hand. This feels new. He leans down, crushed with emotion and she, in her last breath, tell him her middle name: Rose. This, we understand, is the first time. And this time, it’s real. She has given him something true. It deeply affects Cage, who is desperately in love with her. And it changes everything about what he is, but more so, what he must do. Tomorrow will not be the same.
The significance of this moment is crucial in understanding how the film so effectively creates a theme, justifies it, builds upon it, and then establishes that all of it was for something else. We spend the first two-thirds of the story watching these two characters become a team, he finding a path for her to reach the Omega. She has been the core, the pivotal hammer to the operation, him, the keymaster as it were in unlocking the route. But two things happen along the way: He becomes the better soldier, and more importantly, she a reason to make this fight have worth. The greater arc of Cage (whose very name suggests much about his personality and outlook at the start) is his trust and sacrifice for another, something we witness at the beginning as being wholly lacking in his resolve. Interestingly, the 1993 time loop comedy Groundhog Day, in which a callous weather man spends years upon years replaying the same day in order to earn the trust and love of a special woman, is far more thematically similar to Edge of Tomorrow than at first glance. Cage learns that the fight for humanity is not about saving the world, but saving he one you love, which is what all who fight do. The remainder of the story shifts dramatically following this moment, and a new Cage emerges. Time for a change.
Christopher McQuarrie (screenplay), Jez Butterworth (screenplay)
Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton