I had been looking forward to seeing the new Tom Cruise movie Edge of Tomorrow for quite some time.

A couple years ago I came across an un-produced screenplay by a writer named Dante Harper titled "All You Need Is Kill." Based on a Japanese novel by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, it follows the story of 20 year old Private Billy Cage. Cage is drafted into service in the United Defense Forces to fight the Mimics, alien creatures who land on earth hell-bent on eliminating the human race. The Mimics always seem to know where the UDF will attack and the more battles they’re in, the better the Mimics get at killing humans.
Cage isn’t a good soldier, in fact he’s barely trained in how to operate the Exo-suit the UDF infantry use to fight (think Starship Troopers, the book, not the godawful movie). After he’s killed minutes into his first foray into combat, a confused Cage wakes up in his barracks the next morning and thinks it is all a dream. Until it happens again. Cage realizes he’s caught in a time loop and quickly figures out – like a video game – that the more chances he gets the better he becomes at killing Mimics. During the course of hundreds of loops, Cage transforms into a warrior legend not unlike Sergeant Major Rita Vrataski, the hero of a battle some years ago and now seen on recruiting posters everywhere.
Cage and Rita meet and he soon learns that she was once caught in a time loop like the one he is experiencing. Together they figure out how to destroy the Mimics. They hatch a plan that, at the end, comes down to an agonizing choice. The writing is brilliant. The story, for all its similarities with Groundhog Day, is compelling. There’s only one problem.
Tom Cruise can’t play a 20 year old Private.
So what happens when one of the biggest movie stars on the planet – ever – wants to play a role written for someone half his age? The script is re-written.
From the first frame to the last, this causes problems. In the opening sequence we learn that the aliens landed in Germany and have since taken control of almost all of Europe, recreating, in effect, the European theater during World War II complete with allusions to Verdun (actually a WWI battle) and the D-Day invasion – the 70th anniversary of which coincided with the film’s release. Cruise’s Cage is no longer a new recruit, he is a middle-aged Major charged not with fighting the war, but with selling it. We see him on CNN (who watches CNN anymore?) extolling the virtues of the exo-suit and bragging about Rita Vrataski, the "Angel of Verdun". Cage even explains to General Brigham, played by an obese Brendan Gleeson (another poor choice), that he inspired millions of people to join the Army.
Say what? An alien race is attempting to take over planet earth, killing every human being in the process, and you have to convince people to fight them? In Hollywood even the end of the world needs a communications strategy.
When General Brigham orders Cage to "sell the invasion," Cage balks at the thought of physically participating in the war. After a brief blackmail attempt, Brigham orders Cage arrested, demoted, and sent to a line infantry unit with orders made up out of thin air saying he is a deserter.
All of these silly plot points are necessary only because Tom Cruise is playing Billy Cage.
Once he’s dumped into a line unit, Cage meets Master Sergeant Farell, played by Bill Paxton. Paxton disappoints in this role, wasting some great dialogue by delivering it as a cheery, smiling, born again Christian stereotype. His role is greatly reduced from the original screenplay, and for that we can be thankful.
After fighting and dying several times – sometimes in comedic ways – Cage decides to find Rita, played exceptionally well by Emily Blunt. The pair, along with a scientist she befriended after her own experience in a loop at Verdun, plot to defeat the Mimic horde. It is here the movie becomes much more enjoyable, especially if you’ve ever wanted to see Tom Cruise get shot in the head over and over and over again.
But this is also where the movie makes yet another poor choice. Right before killing Cage, Rita tells him that there is only one rule – he must die every day until the Mimics are defeated. She explains that she got out of her loop because she didn’t die and woke up in a field hospital after receiving an infusion of someone else’s blood.
Movies, it’s been said, have to teach the audience how to watch them. We often don’t know the rules of the world that’s been created, especially one as fantastic as this, and once explained those rules can’t be broken without a good reason. Without giving away the ending I’ll simply say that the rule Rita lays out isn’t followed, and there is no explanation.
There are a few other strange choices in the film – including cameos of both General Tommy Franks and Colin Powell – and in the end not much remains of Harper’s original screenplay, likely why he’s not credited as a writer. Despite that fact, I found myself entertained for two hours. It’s a fun, action-filled movie.
But I’ve seen this movie before – and so have you. It’s Groundhog Day meets Starship Troopers fighting the Sentinels from The Matrix in the setting of Saving Private Ryan. It’s Tom Cruise winning the battle, saving the planet, and getting the girl. In 1986 that was the formula for a blockbuster movie which launched his career into the stratosphere. In 2014, it’s a formula for a good movie that will largely be forgotten in a couple weeks.
Which is a shame, because the story as originally written had the potential to be much, much more.
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