One of the troubles with life is the you-only-get-one-go-at-it side of things. There are other issues as well, but who hasn’t relived a moment in their head or dreamt of having another go at something, aiming for a better outcome? Edge of Tomorrow directed by Doug Liman and starring Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt posits the idea that someone might be able to relive a day over and over again. How would they react to this ability not just to think If only I’d done that, but to actually do it?
Based on a work by Japanese author Hiroshi Sakurazaka, the source book’s title All you need is Kill gives a bigger insight into what to expect than the film’s more reserved moniker. Edge of Tomorrow takes place during – according to the bumf – a ‘global war against a seemingly impenetrable infestation of a hive-like alien race’ which are known as Mimics. We are deep in sci-fi/special-effects territory with tentacled monsters and soldiers in exo-skeltetons.
Cruise plays Major Cage, a military PR man suddenly dropped into vicious combat. Given the hi-tech nature of the equipment on display this decision to send an untrained man who doesn’t even know how to turn off the safety on his weapons is unlikely. But it allows us to see how Cage develops from a complete no-hoper to a more fitting Cruisian hero. The conceit makes clear that when the fear of death is removed even the most cowardly of macho-men can find some heroism. After all, there’s a lot less at stake.
The aliens trying to take over the world are computer-generated and not characterised to any degree. They are generic baddies never given any individualism. Rita Vrataski is the only other character we come to know. Played by Emily Blunt as a muscular loner she is a veteran of past battles, the poster girl of the UDF and the person who recognises Cage is not a lunatic but has an ability that be used.
The UDF tag is all over the place and for someone who grew up with the Northern Ireland violence, sorry, Troubles, it is hard not to keep being jolted into thinking the Ulster Defence Force has taken over the world. Here though it refers to the United Defence Force, HQed in London, where the military watch the rest of Europe succumb to the attack of the Mimics. The film contains the unique image of a helicopter landing in Trafalgar Square, with an advert-free National Gallery behind. It was filmed when the fourth plinth was showing the anti-war-memorial sculpture of Powerless Structures by Elmgreen and Dragset. The rocking horse mocking the equestrian memorials of soldiering is glimpsed too briefly to add much comment to the film’s industrial-military pageant.
In the year of the 100th anniversary of the start of World War One the parallels between the two real-life global wars and this fictional shoot-fest are made clear. The attack for which Cage and his fellow soldiers are preparing takes place on Omaha beach. The battle where Vrataski excelled herself was at Verdun. This echoes the well-known horrors of the Battle of Verdun in 1916, but the city had already been the scene of a Franco-Prussian slaughter in 1792. Daily looping of our lives may be impossible, but maybe on a larger scale history insists on replaying itself again and again.
Big action sequences dominate the 113 minutes. Cruise shows the humour in being the only person realising that the day has already been lived, but mimics are noisy creatures and war is a noisy undertaking. Combined with the 3D effects of bullets, water and aliens heading towards you the film is wearying to watch. The future as depicted here is brutish, unpleasant, and oddly appears to be built on welding rather than nanotechnology.
Edge of Tomorrow is a time-looping investigation into what could be if time could be relived. We could improve our reactions, having learnt what works and what doesn’t – as long as everyone else wasn’t learning as well. Outwardly coated in violence it is long with a deliberately repetitious structure, though this is often played for laughs. If you accept the premise then Cage has a superpower that would be useful to have.