I am concerned about all the critics calling Tom Cruise’s new movie, Edge of Tomorrow, original. First and foremost, it’s adapted from a Japanese graphic novel, All You Need is Kill, so it’s not original. It’s an adaptation. But second, there is actually a list of cinematic influences preceding Tomorrow. The obvious one is Groundhog Day, but also Source Code and Looper, all of which actually ARE original stories. I am also concerned about critics calling Edge of Tomorrow good. Because it’s not. At best, it’s a competently made action movie that’s boring as fuck.
The thing that both Source Code and Looper did so well—and so smartly—was just wave their hands at the mechanics of the plot. Source Code spent about two minutes explaining how Jake Gyllenhaal’s character was able to go back in time and re-live the same day on repeat, and that bit of exposition ended with, “It’s quantum stuff, no one gets it.” Looper went for straight-up humor when a character said, “It’s time travel. If we start explaining it we’ll be here all afternoon, making diagrams out of straws.” Both of those movies understood that the audience knows that what is happening is not actually possible, but they do pay service to the internal logic of the story. They both essentially say, “Here are the rules governing the action and the movie will now follow those rules.”
Edge of Tomorrow does not do that. Edge of Tomorrow spends about a third of the movie trying to explain to us what is happening with a bunch of science mumbo-jumbo that DOES NOT MATTER because we bought into the premise when we bought the movie ticket. You don’t have to explain the minutiae of the mechanics. You just have to lay out the “rules” of your “game” and then stick to them. We accept “Tom Cruise repeating the same day over and over” when we agree to sit through the movie.
But the movie wastes an entire act on boring exposition, and worse, it’s not even good exposition. Oh, the invading aliens have some kind of space magic bullshit that lets them manipulate time? And this is supposed to make them fascinating to us? Another big problem with Tomorrow is that the antagonists are not interesting. Looper and Source Code both provided the audience with compelling antagonists that drove the plot. More recently, the two best action movies I’ve seen this year, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and X-Men: Days of Future Past, used highly personal antagonists in order to create narrative tension. But in Tomorrow the antagonists are neither personal nor interesting. They’re just faceless alien invaders trying to conquer the world because SPACE ALIENS.
There is some good stuff in Tomorrow, though. Cruise is as effective as ever as an action hero. And in the most interesting element of the story, his character, Cage (of course that’s his name), is a jerk and kind of a coward, while Emily Blunt’s Rita (why doesn’t she get a cool name, too?!) is the real hero, the actual soldier who knows what the shit she’s doing. It’s a nice turn of convention and Blunt is fantastic every moment she’s on screen. The movie looks great, as directed by Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity), who certainly knows how to stage action sequences. And it’s the closest movies have come to figuring out the video game experience for the big screen, so the producers of the Splinter Cell and Assassin’s Creed movies might want to take notes.
But Edge of Tomorrow is never compelling, never even engaging, and it certainly isn’t original. It isn’t even all that smart—having seen Looper, Source Code and Groundhog Day, it felt like a dumber, louder version of all of those movies. It cares more about explaining time travel—a narratively pointless endeavor—than creating interesting antagonists or sustaining tension in the plot. It’s like all the story parts of a video game, except boring and derivative. If you’re looking for action-heavy science fiction that actually is interesting and smart, wait for Snowpiercer at the end of the month.