One nice thing about a movie adaptation that completely changes the title of the book is that I don’t even have to think of a proper headline, especially when the original title is as seminal as All You Need is Kill.
I’ll cut to the chase: Edge of Tomorrow is the best science fiction film since District 9. Go see it.
The premise of the movie is very simple: it’s Groundhog Day with power armor. Yes, there’s more plot than that. And yes, it is very good plot. But the gist of the movie is right there in those ubiquitous trailers with the super autotuned intonation that this is not the end. Aliens have invaded. We’re invading Europe to fight them. Tom Cruise keeps reliving the day of the invasion over and over again.
What’s not in the trailer is the persistent humor of the film, which I am to understand is a big part of the novel as well. See, Tom Cruise’s character William Cage is a coward. He’s an advertising jackass who got drafted, pisses off the wrong general, and gets sent to the frontlines of the invasion of Europe. He is not a super soldier. He has literally never even worn power armor before, has no idea how to even turn the safety off of his gun. So he dies. Over and over and over and over and over, and often in completely hilarious ways.
The editing of the film plays a big role in making this work, being willing to make quick cuts after a death to immediately before it happens again on the next time through the day, for both humorous and dramatic effect. A lot of the humor comes from Cage’s interplay with the utter seriousness of Emily Blunt’s character Rita, the “Full Metal Bitch” who is a war hero, a badass, and just happens to fight with an enormous makeshift sword as much as guns.
And though I hesitate to make the comparison, it’s very apt here: it feels like a video game, one of those really hard ones that you end up only winning through muscle memory as much as actual skill. So as Cage gets more and more talented, training and dying hundreds upon hundreds of times, more than anything it’s the memorization of permutations that gets him farther and farther. Two steps forward, shoot to the left, one step back, duck, then shoot to the right, sprint forward fifty feet, die, do it differently next time. It’s gorgeous to watch.
Time loop stories like this resonate so much when done well because underneath they’re stories about experience. They appeal to that belief that we just never have enough time, and that if we did, there would be no limit to what we were capable of. There’s a funny thing in the way these films have the running joke of walking in and picking up training, whether with power armor or the piano, at some arbitrary point where the protagonist left off in the previous iteration. There’s the humorous beat of the confused teacher who just met the protagonist for the time. It strikes us as sort of funny, the idea of living life in these disparate little chunks that get strung together into real learning. But that’s exactly the way real life is, only masked by the illusion we have of it running along as a smooth whole.
But in addition to that humor and action, the film nails the human element, with the growing relationship between Cage and Rita. It’s never forced, and is anything but a tacked on obligatory romance. It’s the slow growth of camaraderie as the day is relived repeatedly. And like Groundhog Day, there is the mounting hopelessness of actually managing to make a difference, of having only the illusion of free will as interminable fate grinds on for the thousandth time.
That crushing despair elevates the film from its simple story to having much more of an emotional appeal than you might expect. While the action is impressive and quite fun, it’s in the quiet moments that the film really finds itself. It’s in those moments that Cruise shines, taking Cage on an evolution from callowly just trying to avoid combat at all, to trying to unravel a way to win, to making winning worth accomplishing at all.
Steven Lloyd Wilson is a hopeless romantic and the last scion of Norse warriors and the forbidden elder gods. His novel, ramblings, and assorted fictions coalesce at www.burningviolin.com. You can email him here and order his novel here.