This isn’t precisely a review as it’s got major spoilers, but I felt I really had to go deeper into the story and characters of the Tom Cruise movie Edge of Tomorrow than the short review I gave it.
I really love this movie. Frankly, I think it really is a better Groundhog Day, and that’s saying a lot. Bill Murray is fucking brilliant, and nice guy/blue pill romantic elements of the script aside, his portrayal of Phil, the arrogant, jaded, and cocky weatherman is awe inspiring. You start with the realization that he – apparently – has no consequences as everything resets, but he remembers his past. He takes advantage of it, mercilessly. Then he realizes that there ultimately is a consequence – he’s trapped. In desperation to escape, he tries suicide. Again, and again, and again. Even stealing the groundhog to find a way out.
Eventually, tired of being stuck in the same rut, tired of hedonism, tired of self-destruction, he decides to seek self-improvement. While those who’ve taken the red pill may argue with some of what is portrayed as good – being helpful to people of of genuine kindness, learning to play music, and becoming an expert at innumerable practical skills are all good things to achieve, and he had a lifetime, some say dozens, to learn them.
Once his core nature changed, he got out of the rut. It’s a powerful lesson.
OK, Andie McDowell is actually pretty cute too.
So why would Edge of Tomorrow be better? It too starts with a glib charmer who is, if anything, worse. Bill Murray’s Phil was competent at his job even if he was a bitter and jaded human being. Tom Cruise’s William Cage is a superficial charmer, and deeply inside, a coward. It would be easy to say “because I like SF tropes more” as a cheat.
It’s because while both characters are placed on a path to virtue, where Phil is placed on a path to improve himself for his own sake, Cage not only has to overcome his debilitating cowardice, improve himself, become an expert at war despite never having a background in it, but also overcomes his personal failings in the cause of something far greater than himself. Yes, this gives him additional outside motivation, but he could have just as easily lived a life of debauchery and said “fuck you”, given in to his cowardice. Where Phil’s suicides were played seriously, showing how selfish they were, and how they affected everyone around him not in on the gag, the nature of the time loop is played for very dark battlefield humor in Tomorrow. Can’t train because he broke his leg? Bullet to the head.
Despite the fact he – like Phil – did not control his entry into the time loop, he too embraces it. He knowingly suffers, over and over again, to find a path out through the other side by winning this war.
In the end, Chekhov’s gun is respected, and instead of escaping the loop by killing the mimics, William Cage loses his ability to loop after a blood transfusion. This is the moment of truth for his character, as he is no longer immune, so to speak, from death. If he dies, he’s not only gone, but there will not be another chance to stop the aliens, to put his knowledge to use.
In the end, he sacrifices himself, and yes, the day is won.