Page to Screen: Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

edgeoftomorrow

Edge of Tomorrow
based on
All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka

★★★½☆

I haven’t seen Pacific Rim since I saw it for the first time last summer on its opening weekend. I fully intend to watch it again—I adore it so!—but my viewing experience was just so perfect: the magic of seeing a film in the afternoon in the summer, being so unspoiled that I spent much of the film soundlessly cursing to myself in delighted surprise, and watching it with a full, appreciative house. Pacific Rim is not a perfect film, but, that afternoon, I saw the future of summer blockbusters. So my next viewing has a lot to live up to.

As do all summer blockbusters. I wasn’t originally going to see Edge of Tomorrow, but my vague curiosity about the unique concept was piqued further when it received a favorable review from Empire. Despite both Christian Bale and my friend Natalya having pointed out that Tom Cruise is dead in the eyes, I remain, nonetheless, rather fond of him, even if he did instigate all those changes in Rock of Ages. Plus, Empire’s Helen O’Hara fawned over just how cool Emily Blunt’s character was… and this is the first time Hollywood has adapted a light novel into a film… oh, alright, fine, universe, I’ll use it as an excuse to throw money at cute historical theaters.

But finally have talked myself into seeing Edge of Tomorrow, I felt a little bereft after digesting it. I certainly enjoyed it—I’m getting much better at throwing myself into cinematic experiences, rather than daring the film to engage me—and I certainly found it to be a breath of fresh air. But… well, it’s just no Pacific Rim. Where Pacific Rim wears its progressive themes on its sleeves (evil can only be conquered by the power of love, and we mean real love, baby, not heteronormativity masquerading as such), Edge of Tomorrow plays coy. It can certainly afford to, hidden behind the engaging narrative of a coward learning to be a real human being, but the fact that said coward learns to be a human being by valuing other human beings is only implied.

I’m tempted to ask if I really should judge Edge of Tomorrow for not being as progressive as Pacific Rim. After all, Emily Blunt’s character, Rita Vrataski, is amazing—a world-weary veteran who becomes Cruise’s Cage’s mentor when she realizes that he has the ability to reset the day upon his death, as she once did. And the film plays its concept to the hilt, from exploring the ramifications of the butterfly effect to using it to effectively create a ton of tension to the sheer physical comedy of seeing Tom Cruise, the biggest movie star in the world, misjudge rolling under a truck and dying horribly. And yet, it’s still a little disappointing to see all of its gorgeous, unique qualities fade a little in the attempt to make it a more traditional Hollywood blockbuster, from the (small) romance to destroying the Louvre in the climactic battle to the happiest ending I think I’ve ever seen in a film about an impending alien apocalypse. It’s slick. And it’s fun. But it’s just not enough.

Obviously, there’s plenty of room in this world for films that are just slick and fun. But there’s something slightly more cunning lurking beneath Edge of Tomorrow, something that argues that cowardice is an isolated condition. Cage only stops thinking about his own survival when he realizes that he can never truly outrun what’s happening, but that’s also the point when he starts taking the people around him seriously, treating them with respect. Even the romance is less about resolving scorching sexual tension (it’s not a very sexy romance, in fact) and more about learning to see Rita beyond the various labels she’s been given. But this is all subtext that’s, more or less, washed away with the ending. Had all Edge of Tomorrow aimed at was a mash-up of Groundhog Day and a sci-fi action film, I think I would have enjoyed it wholeheartedly, from its clever editing to lived-in production values. But because there’s something smarter in there that gets ignored, I feel pretty conflicted about it.

I saw this film in theaters.

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