Late yesterday afternoon, I stopped off on the way home from work for an extended break at the cinema, watching the movie Edge Of Tomorrow.
I’m sorry that I did.
The appeal of the movie is its supposed unpredictability. It features a main character who wakes up at the same moment, a few hours in the past, every time he is killed in battle. So, he lives the same day over and over again, but realizes that he has the ability to change the way that he lives the day, and becomes a better person in the process.
Actually, this idea is at least 21 years old, with an earlier incarnation in the movie Groundhog Day, in which a person lives the same day over and over again, realizing that he has the ability to change even within apparent repetition, and becomes a better person in the process. You could call Edge Of Tomorrow a remake of Groundhog Day, only with aliens and battle scenes.
So much for originality. Still, Edge Of Tomorrow is entertaining, for the first 30 minutes or so. After that, it becomes entirely predictable. The aliens give the main character visions of their secret vulnerability, but those visions turn out to be fake, used by the evildoers to manipulate the hero. That idea is old hat to anyone who knows a bit of Harry Potter.
Still, the lack of originality in Edge Of Tomorrow wouldn’t have been a serious problem, if it had been executed well. Sadly, that wasn’t the case.
When characters are given an infinite amount of time to think, reflect, research and plan, there will be high expectations for the ideas that the characters come up with. Edge Of Tomorrow doesn’t deliver on these expectations. The main character’s plan is simply to find a way to kill his opponent, and to do so through technologies that were already old during World War II: Swords, guns, and bombs. The audience is led to believe that these are the only tools that can destroy the enemy, with only 30 seconds of a high-tech surveillance device thrown in for variety.
The moral vision of Edge Of Tomorrow is unsatisfyingly stiff and old-fashioned as well. Persuasion and talking are for cowards, the movie leads us to believe. Salvation of moral character, the movie preaches, comes when people march off into battle to fight to the death – the more fighting, the higher the moral character.
The idea that going off into bloody battle provides clarity and solid character is particularly daft, given the experience of our society with soldiers who went off to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. More often than not, war messes people up.
Edge Of Tomorrow is supposed to be science fiction, so I’m willing to accept the reality-bending proposal of characters who can hop backwards in time. What I’m not willing to accept are characters who defy what we know about human psychology.
Edge Of Tomorrow thus manages to fail, simultaneously, to be imaginative and to be plausible. I think I might have had a better time watching the movie with the talking raccoon.