‘Edge of Tomorrow’ replicates the video game experience without the bad aftertaste

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The premise seems familiar enough: it’s the not-too-distant future and Earth is under attack by aliens. The “Mimics” arrived by an errant asteroid and now they have taken over half of continental Europe. To help combat these hyper-intelligent aliens, humans wear armored combat suits fitted with rocket launchers and side-guns. One might even confuse the whole thing for a video game, if it didn’t have Tom Cruise’s face slapped on the poster.

Edge of Tomorrow replicates the experience of jumping into a video game through the eyes of untested combatant Major William Cage (Tom Cruise). Like most video game rookies, Cage is unfamiliar with his weaponry and panicked by the rushing hordes of attackers, he dies within minutes. And when he dies next he wakes up to the shouts of master sergeants (Bill Paxton in R. Lee Ermey mode). With each new life, Cage, mirrors other trepidatious gamers gathering their bearings in a new level, testing weapons in hopes of getting a feel before close quarters combat.

Fighting alongside Cage is the “Full-Metal Bitch” Rita (Emily Blunt) a warrior goddess who earned her fame dispatching thousands of aliens at the Battle of Verdun. Cage and Rita are the only characters who move around the beach in different formations as the other soldiers flail about in repetition. Even though the film’s tagline, “Live, Die, Repeat” could just as easily be a reference to how players use respawning to progress further into games, only Cage can learn from the mistakes of history—and the last level.

The overlay between this film and gaming creates a few laugh-out-loud moments where Cage can only sigh as he dies in increasingly exasperating fashion. The best example being when director Doug Liman shoots Cage running in slow motion after finally getting a hang on his new weaponry, only for him to be hit by a passing Jeep. Likewise, Cage’s first experience with war is brimming with the kind of panic that a first-time player would have thrust in the middle of a battlefield. Liman is well aware of what he’s doing with these scenes and how closely it resembles the other popular medium.

Not happy in just recreating the video game experience for movie viewers, Edge of Tomorrow also comments on the propaganda and nationalistic fervor of most war games. The “Mimics” like a lot of enemies in any Call of Duty game go largely unexplored in favor of superior officers giving speeches. Why Cage and the rest of the United Defense Force fight the “Mimics” is unknown to the soldiers; the only thing that matters is “we’re losing” to them. That Cage has been selling a war he doesn’t understand is a pretty huge indictment to the jingoistic salesman routine he’d been playing before seeing actual combat.

Most encouraging is the portrayal of Rita by Emily Blunt in the film. Too often video games leave no room for female characters with agency, but the Hero of Verdun looms large over the story. Rita isn’t defined by form-fitting latex, but her own heroics that give the UDF a chance to live another day. Inclusions like these are small when taken in the entire landscape of the film, but they mark the effort of a picture trying to do more than provide mindless entertainment by also addressing the flaws inherent in war games.

Countless games have been adapted into films, but very few have truly feltas much like a video game as Edge of Tomorrow does. The Resident Evil franchise devolved into cheap action films, Doom utilized P.O.V. camerawork to feel like a game, but it wasn’t enough to save the picture, and Super Mario Bros, well, we just won’t talk about that. That the best film to provide the gaming experience in a theatre wasn’t based on a game is just the cherry on top of a fun summer blockbuster.

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