Edge of Tomorrow and the Game of Success

Given the film’s sudden barrage of praise and good reviews, I’m not afraid to say it anymore: Edge of Tomorrow was super great.

Described by some as a some combination of Starship Troopers-meets-Band of Brothers (although, let’s be honest, BoB is largely a yellow series while Edge is decidedly blue—more on that another day), I sat down to a film suspect to cliché, but ultimately fortified by excellent writing, thrilling action sequences, and beautiful animation. Even some pinpoint acting from Tom Cruise as Major William Cage, and definitely in Emily Blunt‘s Rita Vrataski.

Naysayers doubted me when I said the trailer looked promising, and where are they now? Probably at the movies, wondering how they could ever doubt me again.

I feel as if I should start off with the first big impression set upon me in the theatre, and I must warn you, it’s super nerdy and kind of a throwback. The alien antagonists in the film, a bio-mechanical race called Mimics, struck me right away as a stunning combo of design and animation. Their shape both menacing and elegant, I couldn’t help my recollection of another group of radiant, volcanic creatures from another world—the monsters of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. Srsly.

Image
One of Edge of Tomorrow‘s Mimics as designed by Kevin Jenkins.
HH_Shadow_Beast
And here, an early design for Twilight Princess‘ roving Shadow Beasts.

Not completely dissimilar. Especially when facing the Mimic against many of Twilight Princess‘ monsters, aglow with strips of bioluminescence and obsidian armor, whipped into movements both viper-quick and graceful, I wondered right away if Edge designers had found some inspiration there. The answer as of now seems like no —at least not exactly—but I’m obviously not the first person to view Edge as a testament to the imagery of video games. In fact, it’s basically the main idea.

Empire Magazine‘s Dan Jolin wrote an especially thoughtful review on Edge and its relationship to video games, cataloguing many of the film’s critical scenes into “save points” and “end-of-game bosses,” and noting the film’s structure of increasingly difficult levels. Jolin continues:

Part of this is through [Cage’s] power of recollection, plus development of muscle-memory: step left to avoid explosion here, shoot right to eliminate incoming mimic there—every repeated battle is pre-programmed, so he just has to learn the patterns. Then part of it is through a more straightforward regime of personal improvement—or ‘levelling up’—which comes via Cage ‘unlocking new content’. Having mastered the timing of a roll between a truck’s wheels in one amusing and novel sequence, he is rewarded with access to a trainer (Emily Blunt as seasoned soldier Rita Vrataski) who not only provides him with the necessary information to progress to new ‘levels’, but also enables him to ‘spend’ his ‘experience points’ in her automated dojo.

I love this! If only director Doug Liman employed this same clarity and purpose in Jumper

Don't listen to him, Hayden!
It’s like they already know that this is a bad idea…

Honestly, though, I do remove a lot of credit from the director in these situations and hand what’s due over to the writer, or in this case to Hiroshi Sakurazaka, the creator behind source material All You Need is Kill. (Can’t say I miss that title, though).

Maybe not even to Sakurazaka, exactly, but to the gears of his plot. Screenwriting classes teach us to look for the three-act structure, to flow between the stages of a hero’s journey with world-hopping events and critical emotional turning points. All of that is very useful knowledge to have. But when I think of plots matched to Edge‘s strength but lacking in development–*cough cough* The Maze Runner–I can’t help but imagine the usefulness of video games’ punishment-reward system of progress. Edge lacks a ticking time bomb element to keep its audience interested (Cage essentially has an infinite amount of time to complete his quest, so no one’s worried about much else but a [SPOILER ALERT] blood transfusion), but the volume of obstacles placed in the hero’s way, the maturity with which he approaches each new awakening—that’s what seems to have strung everyone along to this surprise hit. The concept that no one moves forward without a little pain is true to life, true to storytelling, and definitely true, I think, to the psyche of many artists.

Way to make it work, Tom.
Way to make it work, Tom.

Plus, I really dig the mirror Edge held to the infamous Battle of Verdun. As an aspiring history buff, I thought the element of nostalgic, legendary destruction exquisite among the brute chaos of an imaginary war. Maybe it’s the Romantic in me.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, then please view Edge of Tomorrow‘s trailer below. And for those of you who have already seen the whole thing (or not), feel free to comment your thoughts!

Peace out.

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