Last weekend my roommate and I watched
Live Die Repeat The Day After Tomorrow Groundhog Day With Guns Edge of Tomorrow, directed by Doug Liman and starring Tom Cruise. Based on a Japanese novella called All You Need Is Kill, Edge of Tomorrow is a pretty standard sci-fi action movie (with a bit of a tend towards “military-themed” and a bit away from “massive explosions”).
Coming out of the movie, my main feeling was that it was well-executed. It wasn’t mindblowing, it wasn’t heartwrenching, it wasn’t heartpounding(ly exciting). Instead, I appreciated a lot of the things they did. I appreciated that the main character was a bit of a screw-up. I appreciated that the first quarter of the movie stood completely on its own—even in retrospect it didn’t feel like lead-in for the “repeat” part of “Live. Die. Repeat.” (Contrast with Looper.) I appreciated that having women in the military was considered normal, even if the majority of soldiers were still men. (More on that below.) I appreciated that the alien design wasn’t humanoid.1 I appreciated that, for the most part, they were making reasonable choices on how to fight a war given the power of reset.
(Do you know the gimmick of the movie? They spell it out pretty clearly even on the poster, so I don’t feel bad talking about it here. But if you really don’t want it spoiled, stop reading now.)
The thing is, it really felt like Groundhog Day. It’s as if Western cinema only has one pattern for people to go through when they realize they are reliving the same day over and over. Bill Cage (Cruise) has a goal, while Phil Connors (Bill Murray) has to figure out what he’s trying to accomplish, but the two protagonists go through the same bewilderment, experimentation, rejection, attempts to escape, and attempts to cheat, eventually throwing themselves fully into their mission. Even the women opposite Cage and Connors are both named “Rita”.2 Groundhog Day does get a bit of debauchery in as well that Tomorrow passes on (perhaps because it would ruin the tone of the movie), but for the most part it’s the same progression—and because of that it felt very straightforward. I was personally hoping Cage would have to shoot himself at one point, but it wouldn’t have actually added anything—just another thing I could “appreciate”.
(And now I want to watch Groundhog Day again.)
Uh, okay, so that section only makes sense if you know about the movie already. Suffice it to say that the progression is not surprising, though still fairly enjoyable.
So, before I go off on topic-specific tangents, who should see this movie? Honestly, it won’t be anyone’s favorite movie any time soon, but if you want something a little more serious than today’s action movies, a little more sci-fi than typical military, or another entry in “popular sci-fi”, Edge of Tomorrow is there. You can probably just catch it online later, though.
“She’s the poster girl for the movie. No, she’s literally on a recruiting poster.”
Vrataski is calm, collected, and driven, and truly believes in the cause—the opposite of Cage. Admittedly, she “believes” only because she knows that this may be their only chance, based on her past experience. Still, she’s Cage’s mentor and the one responsible for training him to make the final blow against the Mimics. She’s also a woman.
The thing is, I can see why they would have “had” to make the character female. One, they based Vrataski’s character on the one from All You Need is Kill (apparently expanding her role). Two, the mentor relationship they were using might have actually played best this way:
- Male Vrataski / Male Cage: Been done, doesn’t advance anything. More cynically, harder to mark Vrataski as special and harder to sell the bit of romance they wanted.
- Male Vrataski / Female Cage: Also been done; what’s coming to mind is Million Dollar Baby, despite having not seen it. Additionally, they probably decided on Cruise pretty early on.
- Female Vrataski / Female Cage: Same Cruise problem, plus two women in a male-dominated setting might be expected to have a different dynamic given that setting.
- Female Vrataski / Male Cage: Heterosexual tension.
And for the most part the “heterosexual tension” was actually handled very well. Cage makes his pass, fails, and it doesn’t come up again.3 Then in the farmhouse he accidentally reveals his romantic intentions, which initially made me quite annoyed (at the character, not the director) until Cage points out that he had gotten to know her over the many many repeats. (The “and you never get farther than this” bit is just a sop to excuse him logically.) Extended close contact leading to feelings of romance is entirely reasonable.
The parts I was most disappointed with were the ending and the beginning. For the end, Vrataski should not have given Cage a kiss—sure, she’s impressed with him at this point, but it’s only been a day. In this particular day, he hasn’t shown any romantic intent towards her (though it’s probably clear he’s attracted to her). But they are both about to die, and Vrataski accepts that first…
(It’s minorly meaningful that the only other person Vrataski interacts with, Dr. Carter, is less Western-culture-attractive than Cage.)
The other disappointment was her first introduction as a character, which my friend Daniel put pretty well: “the director likes that upward-facing-dog shot so much he uses it three different times in the movie.” Vrataski is in-shape, and fits society’s standards of female beauty (okay, “she’s attractive”), but this shot is one of (admittedly few) instances where she is overtly treated as an “object of male gaze”, for no real reason other than to show off her body to the audience.
But for the most part, Vrataski was a real strong character who was a woman, rather than a requirement-filling Strong Female Character™. She doesn’t start depending on Cage to accomplish the mission. She’s not the squeamish one (that’s Cage). She was a reward, unfortunately, and I still wish she hadn’t been. But still…progress? Maybe?
And what about the other women in the movie? Well, there’s, uh, Nance from J Squad, and the nurse who gives Cage blood, and that’s about it. I don’t mind there being fewer women than men in the military, since this is supposed (?) to be near-future sci-fi, but Nance is the only one with a name. (And she doesn’t even get addressed by last name like all the other soldiers.) I don’t need to go into how hard the Bechdel Test fails on this movie—I’m not sure Vrataski and Nance are ever in the same conversation, about anything.
(What about people of color? Nope. The best I can say is that Ford, the Token Black Guy, wasn’t the first to die in the final battle. Pretty much everyone else was white; the “on your feet!” sergeant doesn’t count.)
So I can’t quite give Edge of Tomorrow that much credit in these areas. It’s a mainstream Hollywood action movie, so I wasn’t expecting much, but I try not to grade on a curve for this kind of thing. Still, in relative terms, I suppose Edge of Tomorrow is moving in the right direction.
The last day is still way too lucky, though. No way would they get through that first try. No way would the Alpha not be able to swim faster than that. No way would the UDF just let them steal a dropship.
Also, the Mimics are clearly Zerg.
I have no idea why the aliens were called Mimics. This is apparently taken from All You Need Is Kill, but from what little I’ve read about that I’m not sure why they’re called Mimics there either. ↩︎
Coming out of the movie I would have sworn that this was deliberate, but I don’t actually see any evidence of that. The name “Rita Vrataski” comes from All You Need Is Kill. ↩︎