Edge of Tomorrow ★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

So people seem to have reached the consensus that Edge of Tomorrow's ending is rather on the weak side. They're right -- but perhaps not for the reasons they think. It's not a weak ending because it's too happy or because it's a deus ex machina (though it kind of is). The reason the ending feels weak is a result of Edge of Tomorrow's greatest strength. What is that strength, you might ask? Edge of Tomorrow is the greatest film adaptation of a videogame that has ever been made.

So what do I mean by that? The source material isn't a videogame, you may say. The film is based off the light novel All You Need Is Kill, by Hiroshi Sakurazaka. That being said, the film's narrative mechanics have drawn a lot of inspiration from solid game design. Granted, not all games function the same way, which is why I'd like to cite a specific kind of game design. Comparisons to the film Groundhog Day have been made time and time again (understandably), but I'd prefer to compare Edge of Tomorrow to Dark Souls.

For those of you who may not know, Dark Souls is a marvelous game from the folks at From Software. It is gorgeously rendered, hauntingly atmospheric, and notoriously, excruciatingly difficult. Despite (or rather because of) its difficulty, it has become something of a contemporary classic in the videogame canon. One dies often in Dark Souls -- it's an absolute inevitability. Hell, the tagline is "Prepare to Die." You will die in Dark Souls, and you will die a lot. And that's what makes it so fantastic.

See, death isn't just a source of frustration in Dark Souls; it's also a learning experience. Didn't see that enemy around the corner? Now you know he's there. Didn't expect that giant boulder to come rolling down the stairs? Now you can avoid it. Did that boss stomp you into oblivion so suddenly that you threw your controller out of rage? Now you know something else about his move set. In Dark Souls, every death is another opportunity to remember enemy locations, memorize move sets, study patterns, and avoid recurring mistakes. Moreover, failure in Dark Souls encourages critical thinking and creativity. If one approach doesn't work, then you've probably missed something and should think outside the box.

Are you starting to see the similarities yet? Major William Cage, played by Tom Cruise, is thrust into a similar situation: he lives, he tries, he dies, and he tries again. One might even say he's trapped in a *cage* of sorts (yes, it's stupid, but I love bad puns). With each failed attempt, however, Cage (the character, not the pun) grows more and more cunning. He is able to memorize enemy locations and movesets, and he looks for patterns in his situation that he can exploit. His predicament, moreover, forces him to hone his physical, mental, and intellectual abilities since simply remembering where the enemies are won't suffice. Cage is essentially playing a sci-fi version of Dark Souls. And for the first two thirds of its runtime, Edge of Tomorrow establishes and captures a tremendous rhythm of attempting, failing, and trying again -- much like Dark Souls. And like Dark Souls, the film is an absolute blast.

Then we get into the third act, and Cage loses his power to reset the day. This effectively overthrows the videogame-like mechanics that governed the first two thirds of the film. While most people say that this is where the film starts to lose its *edge* (you knew it was coming; don't roll your eyes like that), I actually think it's quite clever. One of the consequences of things like Dark Souls and the first two-thirds of Edge of Tomorrow is that their particular brand of a live-die-repeat formula effectively trivializes death. "Sure," the logic goes, "you didn't live this time, but we can always try again!" Death loses its consequence if it can't touch you, and by robbing Cage of his ability to reset the day, a real sense of urgency is put in place -- and up until the final moments, the last third of the film easily mounts the most tension. Death is not a restart button any more; it's game over. This would be like playing a game where death meant that the game would close, the console would self destruct, and you would never, ever be able to play the game again. That would freak you the fuck out.

But then the ending comes, and Cage regains his ability to reset the day, and once again death is trivialized. This time, however, there's no need to try again since the alien threat has been defeated. Furthermore, it robs the deaths of Cage and Rita of their dramatic significance and gravitas. So really, it's not that the ending is necessarily bad -- just that it sucks the air out of the last third of the film that had preceded it. Consequently, the ending feels uneven and unsatisfying.

That being said, I loved Edge of Tomorrow. On the one hand, I myself can't think of particularly satisfying way to end the narrative since ending with the deaths of Cage and Rita would feel a little too abrupt. And on the other hand, it's a really excellent piece of work. The character work on Cage and Rita is well-developed and rather heartfelt, Cruise and Blunt have excellent chemistry, the effects work is seamless, Doug Liman frames and cuts the action smoothly and coherently (fuck you Michael Bay, fuck you Michael Bay, I can't believe your god-awful franchise has made such ungodly amounts of money), and unlike the films of Michael Bay (fuck everything he stands for), the film actually explores some interesting territory in terms of subject matter, themes, and (as I spent this entire review talking about) narrative mechanics. It also brings something fresh to loosen up the rigor mortis of conventional blockbusters -- and for that, I will gladly take an inspired, heartfelt work with a slightly flawed ending over the bloated, uninspired, frantic monotony of fire-breathing robot dinosaurs and destruction porn (which, by the way, only continues to make money because people continue to watch it).

Tl;dr -- Videogames are cool, Edge of Tomorrow is sweet, and the only things that can stop the corrosive effects of consumer capitalism are a proletariat revolution and/or a collective refusal by the consumers to watch robots break things for three hours.