Fixing Movies: Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
Major William Cage (played by Tom Cruise) does P.R. for the world’s combined army, which is currently in the midst of fighting an alien invasion (the aliens are called “Mimics,” whose name is never actually explained and, unless I’m missing something, is completely random. One may think that they mimic humans in some way, but they’d be wrong because they look like more earth-ready versions of the sentinels from The Matrix trilogy) that has taken complete control of Europe and is seemingly unstoppable. The world’s army is about to launch a massive, all-or-nothing attack on the conquered Europe and Cage is summoned to the head general’s office for what he thinks is a meeting about how to spin the invasion in a positive light. Cage’s responsibility in the war thus far has been to sell it to the public and recruit civilians to become soldiers who can use a mech-suit of sorts that lets them stand a chance against the Mimics. The suits are pretty cool, albeit clunky, but only go so far against the Mimics, who are wicked fast and ruthless. It dawns on Cage that the general isn’t actually looking for help with P.R. Instead, the general informs Cage that he’s going to be on the front lines of the invasion, all suited up, fighting the Mimics at Normandy, where Mimic activity is thought to be at a low. The reason why Cage is being unwillingly thrust into battle—he’s not an actual soldier it turns out; he was the head of an advertising firm before the war and his Major credentials are more or less superficial for the sake of media appearances—is never actually explained.
Cage attempts to flee but is captured pretty quickly and forced to join a ragtag squad of misfits in the invasion. He wakes up at a staging ground, handcuffed, and at the mercy of a Master Sergeant who knows all about his attempt at desertion. At Normandy, things go south pretty quickly—the Mimics knew about the invasion and aim to obliterate the army, pretty much ruining humanity for good—and Cage is essentially useless. He somehow finds himself with a claymore mine in his hands and blows it up in the face of a mean-looking mother of a Mimic. This Mimic’s blood pours all over Cage, ostensibly burning right through him like acid, and Cage’s eyes turn black, and he dies…then he wakes up back at the staging ground and goes through it all again, introducing Cage’s ability to time travel, similar to Bill Murray in Groundhog’s Day.
In one of his upcoming lives, Cage encounters a badass soldier during the invasion of Normandy. She (played by Emily Blunt) is basically the face of the army, having single-handedly won a previous battle at Verdun—humanity’s first ever victory against the Mimics—after killing hundreds of Mimics by herself, earning herself the sobriquet: the Angel of Verdun. Her real name is Rita Vrataski and despite her skills, she gets killed by a mimic right in front of Cage. Cage then dies and wakes up back at the staging ground. He keeps going through this until he adequately develops his own fighting skills to save Rita by way of telling her exactly what’s going to happen at every point on the battle field. She’s familiar with the time traveling thing and tells him just before she dies to find her in his next life. Cage dies again and reboots at the staging ground. He finds Rita in a training facility and convinces her of what’s happening to him. She brings him to a mechanic/particle physicist (Dr. Carter), who is in on the time traveling thing, too. Rita reveals that this happened to her at Verdun, allowing her to reboot until she won the battle. Apparently, that mean-looking mother of a Mimic that Cage killed in his first life is called an Alpha, which is plugged into the central nervous system of the Mimics, which is called an Omega. If you kill an Alpha, and its blood gets on you, you become plugged into the wavelength of the Omega, who can apparently control and manipulate time because its a super-alien species…or something like that. So now Cage can control time—when he dies, he reboots to when he was last sleeping and wakes up. Rita tells Cage she lost her ability to control time when she got knocked unconscious and woke up in a medical facility where they had to give her a blood transfusion to save her life. The blood change ruined the Alpha blood in her system, and she lost her ability and has been living a normal timeline since then.
Rita also says that she began to see visions that revealed the Omega’s location. She never got a chance to make it far enough to really find out where it was and kill it but cautions Cage to be on the look out for said visions. It takes many reboots for Cage to see the visions, but eventually he does, and he and Rita begin to make a concerted effort to kill it, constantly starting over when things don’t go right, learning new tactics along the way. Cage becomes a super-soldier like Rita and ends up being humanity’s only hope, but only he and Rita and Carter know it, and he has to convince them every time he reboots.
Cage and Rita progress further and further, and Cage begins to fall for Rita. She quickly stomps this possibility out, though, because she’s a badass soldier who sees the bigger picture. The two are at a farmhouse somewhere in Europe, and Cage is being kind of creepy knowing what she does all the time and her preferences—she got injured in the shoulder, she likes coffee with three sugars, bits about her personal life—which is when Rita shuts him down. This makes Cage tell her that this is as far as she ever gets. No matter what he does, she dies here at the farmhouse, and it’s beginning to wear on him. But Rita insists that they go on, knowing that her life is meaningless as long as they kill the Omega. After that life Cage just goes to a bar and has a drink while the invasion fails. The next life, he goes at it alone, never even trying to find Rita at all, letting her die on Normandy while he goes to where he knows the Omega is—a mountain dam in Germany somewhere. But it’s a trap—the Mimics knew about him and planted the vision with the Omega’s location. An Alpha and another Mimic ambush him, injuring him but not killing him because they want him alive so he can’t reboot again. Cage finds a way to kill himself, though, and in his next life he finds Rita and Carter and tells them about the fake vision and location.
In one of Cage’s first lives, Carter and Rita allude to a device Carter invented that’s supposed to tap into the Omega’s wavelength and amplify the visions. It dawns upon them that they should give this thing a shot despite Carter insisting it won’t work. They have to go steal some extra equipment from the general, though, and that takes a couple lives to get right. When they do, they’re in a car chase, fleeing the general’s soldiers, and end up crashing and getting hurt. Cage wakes up in a medical facility after receiving a blood transfusion. Rita busts them both out and they’re off. Luckily, during the car chase Cage uses the device to find out where the Omega really is: the Louvre in Paris. So they recruit some soldiers (J-squad: Cage’s misfit unit from his earlier lives, whom he has gotten to know quite well though they barely know him at all), drop in on the Louvre, and attack. Everyone dies—I mean everyone—but Cage gets some grenades off on the Omega thanks to Rita distracting an Alpha before dying. Her last words to Cage, after a nice hollywood kiss, were: “I wish I’d known you better,” or something to that effect. Remember, as far as she’s concerned, she’s only known him for a couple hours. So then Cage kills the Omega, dies in the blast, and wake up in the helicopter taking him to see the general for the meeting that would tell Cage he’s going to be on the front lines—the last moment he was sleeping before he woke up at the staging ground.
Only this time the meeting doesn’t happen, and we learn that the Mimic forces have suffered an inability to fight (because the Omega is dead) and are being roundly defeated across Europe. Cage goes and finds Rita, who is at her usual place (the training facility), walks up to her as she says her usual lines to him, but he just laughs. Roll credits.
It’s a good Hollywood movie, meaning it has good acting, good special effects, and is entertaining as hell. But all those things that stand out so vividly allow it to mask and roundly ignore plot points that don’t make a lick of sense.
The first is that Carter’s little experimental device he’s reluctant to use doesn’t actually work the way he says it will. He says that it has to be implanted on an Alpha, and then they’ll be able to see the trace of the wavelength back to the Omega’s location. Implanting it on an Alpha is out of the question, so they just stick it on Cage, who is also in sync with the Omega. What happens is Cage has a vision of where the Omega is instead of finding out from the device where the wavelength leads to. Why he has that reaction is beyond me, and why they believe his vision—giving that his last one was a trick planted by the Mimics—is equally puzzling. Consider, under this precedent, that if they planted the device on an Alpha, the Alpha would have had a vision of the Omega like Cage did, but the device wouldn’t have revealed its location.
A further problem with Carter’s device is that it’s alluded to in one of Cage’s first lives when Rita takes him to meet Carter for the first time. Carter quickly brushes away the device’s potential, and it’s never mentioned again until the life where they actually use it. It doesn’t make much sense that Cage would rather go through battle time and time again, dying a gruesome death each time, without even bothering to give the device a shot. If the device doesn’t work, Rita can just shoot Cage in the head, and he can start over without any fuss, actually gaining the knowledge that the device doesn’t work. Where’s the harm? The thing is, though, the device does work, so why did I just sit through an hour and a half of pointless action when they could have just given it a shot on page twenty of the script? That’s like letting Dorothy go on a tedious journey through Oz even though she could have went back to Kansas at any time if she accidentally clicked her dumb shoes together.
The fix to this is simple: just have Cage and Rita attach the device to an Alpha during one of his lives and use the results in another reboot. Or eliminate the device altogether and let the visions actually be accurate. Delete the mislead. I understand the attraction to twists but if it’s not airtight, you’ll end up in M. Night Shymalandndnan territory.
The second glaring problem is Rita’s explanation of how she lost her power. As far as we know, she was the first and only person to have the ability to time travel; she didn’t have someone to guide her along like Cage had her. Actually, she did have Carter, but I’m not convinced he was all that helpful giving his ignorance of his own device mentioned previously. My point is that if she was learning about this time traveling thing on the fly, how did she become aware that she lost her ability when she received a blood transfusion? Nothing in any of her or Cage’s experiences would indicate that if they fell asleep they’d reboot; so how could she have known she lost her power unless she died for real post-blood transfusion? Cage vaguely alludes to the fact that he “feels” like he lost it when he got his own blood transfusion, but to give that any credence and apply it to Rita’s own loss is too much of a jump.
The funny thing is that the solution is planted in the story already. When Cage first gets bled on by the Alpha, his eyes go jet black. When he uses Carter’s device, they go black. What you do is you have Cage’s eyes be blue (or whatever color Tom Cruise’s eyes are) before he has the power, black when he has the power, then blue again when he loses it. This is a physical indicator to Rita, who would have seen him with black eyes when they stole the device and would have seen him with blue eyes when she breaks him out of the medical facility. She, having gone through this already, would have known that he lost the power. Someone would have likely commented on her own eyes having changed when she was going through this herself, giving her the knowledge that she lost her own power after her blood transfusion.
A bonus is that Cage can use his eye color to convince Rita each reboot that he can time travel.
The third problem is that the final sequence is nonsensical. There’s absolutely no reason Cage should be able to time travel back to when he was snoozing on the helicopter going to his meeting with general. When he dies with the Omega, he already lost his power. Also, the thing that gave him the power has now been destroyed so what exactly is allowing him to time travel now?
The obvious fix is to let Cage and Rita die with the Omega and thus save humanity. This is unfeasible, though, because what studio executive in his right mind would let you kill both lead actors, especially Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt. So the best fix would be to have one die while sacrificing themselves so the other can kill the Omega and somehow live. The movie almost goes this route as Rita kisses Cage and tries to distract an Alpha away from Cage so he can detonate the Omega. But then it hedges, and the Alpha kills Rita, which frees it to go chase down Cage and kill him as he detonates the Omega.
I’m torn between who should live, though; you could make a case for either one. Me, I’m having Rita play the martyr. She should have taken the grenades, found a way to kill the Alpha (she is the Angel of Verdun, remember; she can do shit like that and it’s believable. Major side note: if she did kill this Alpha and got its blood on her, would she have regained the ability to reboot?), and then kill the Omega while Cage escapes. This is totally within the line of reason giving the characters that has been created up to this point. The aftermath is that time continues on—no more reboots—and Cage resumes his role on the P.R. front and sells the story of the Angel of Verdun winning the war to save humanity. He would downplay his role in this because of his fondness for Rita, which grew throughout the movie, almost blossoming into him falling in love with her. I would have the final decision that she makes—to be the martyr—a tough one for any ordinary person but an obvious decision for Rita.
Another problem—if you don’t implement my rewrites—is the very final scene in which Cage is a Major again, the war is over, and he goes and finds Rita in her usual spot at the training facility. She runs through her lines, and he only laughs at her. This is a very Tom Cruise thing to do, and I’m convinced that he cajoled the director into letting him do it. I hope no sane writer would have written such a corny reaction into a script.
My rewrite of this is twofold: (1) have Rita run through her lines, and then have Cage stand there, very obviously relieved she’s alive (remember he just watched her die), and saying nothing. The last shot is of his noticeably relieved face. Cut to credits. He needn’t say a thing. Or (2) have Rita run through her lines and have Cage say something like, “Hi, Rose,” or “Your middle name is Rose.” The last shot is on Rita’s face as she puts it together that this stranger (to this version of Rita) somehow knows her middle name. Her middle name was one of the things that Rita lied to Cage about re her personal life during the repeated reboots as a way to either test Cage or to mess with him. She said it was “Payton” at one point, but then revealed on one of her deathbeds that it was “Rose.” It’s never mentioned again and would have been a good call-back as a last, sentimental moment between the two. The purpose it served in the middle of the movie was that it really struck Cage to the core when he was getting frustrated with the whole process. Cut to credits on her reaction shot after he calls her Rose.
Like I said, it was an entertaining movie. These flaws are minor on the surface and easily ignorable; but if they’re easily ignorable, then they can be fixed just as easily. I think a big missed opportunity was passing over the existential possibilities of a guy purposely dying—whether by his hands, Rita’s, or a Mimic’s (er, tentacles?)—over and over in an increasingly fruitless attempt to save humanity. There’s a lot going on with that emotionally that I don’t think the writer nor Tom Cruise really depicted particularly well. The movie wasn’t too long, and I think an extra 15-20 minutes addressing this would have upped the emotional effect of his relationship to this power he’s obtained. Rita opens up the possibility of exploring this in one reboot in which Cage says the name “Hendricks”—something he learned from a previous reboot from Rita. Hendricks was a soldier/friend who Rita watched die every time she rebooted. This parallels Cage continually watching her die, but that’s about as far as it goes.
I would have rewritten this sequence thusly: (1) Rita tells Cage her real middle name just before she dies. Cage reboots to (2) where he’s visibly upset that he’s getting to know this woman and falling for her but has to constantly watch her die, which reboots to (3) where he explains this to her, that he’s starting to have feelings for her. She kind of rolls her eyes at this (she’s a badass super-soldier after all) and shoots him in the head. Reboot to (4) where we see Cage sitting at a bar after deserting, watching the invasion get whooped on TV. This illustrates his despair while being kind of funny at the same time. He becomes motivated again after one of the bar patrons calls him a coward for not fighting—a scene that does happen in the movie.