Prior to its release, I was granted an opportunity to view the upcoming film Edge of Tomorrow a fair bit early (it released Friday, June 6th).
You may have heard of the film, judging by the absolutely boggling amounts of advertising that has been put out by Warner Bros. leading up to its release. It follows Cage, played by Tom Cruise, a cocky PR man for the military who is also a complete and total coward. He is forced into actually fighting the war he has been promoting to the populous, and is sent to take part in a daring invasion of alien occupied Europe…in which he dies almost instantly, on account of him not being a soldier. Then something strange occurs; he wakes up the day before the invasion. He is sent off again, dies yet again, but meets Rita (Emily Blunt) who recognizes what is happening to him because the same thing had once happened to her. And it turned her into humanity’s greatest hope for victory. The two team up to use his unique power to stop the alien invasion and free him from the loop.
The film is excellent. Filled to the brim with exciting action, shot by Doug Liman in a way that actually lets viewers comprehend what is happening. The film is grounded by incredible performances from Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt, the latter which is destined to play Samus in a Metroid movie. Without those characters, without those performances, the gimmick would become stale and the action meaningless, but they hang together and so does the film, easily one of my favorites so far this year.
But none of that is what makes Edge of Tomorrow something I can write about here. What makes it worth writing about here is that for how good it is, it would be so much better, in every conceivable way, as a video game.
Without going into spoiler territory, it is impossible to view Edge of Tomorrow as a gamer without noticing the parallels between the tropes of game design in the film. Liman openly quotes the language of gameplay in the film, motioning his cameras every time Cruise “respawns” in much the same way that a gamer who has died moves about their environment, with a curious search of the surroundings (like looking for other options) and a sense of purpose. His action sequences, stable yet kinetic, have the rapport and pacing of the best video game gunfights, going through common enemies to a brief crescendo accompanied by a special move and back again. Cruise’s character, in those gun fights and fight losses, gains a form of experience points in learning the different things his exosuit does (like unlocking new armor abilities and weapon upgrades).
The film extrapolates this concept into the entire narrative structure of the film, eschewing the traditional three act for a staccato, staggered method of character development and plot movement, almost like the mission/level/chapter structure common in first person shooters. And inside of those levels, Cruise and Blunt have specific objectives, delivered in a similar staccato fashion. For the first time, it seems, cinema has figured out how to adapt the structure and language of gaming, and really, if we are honest, acknowledge that game design has a real language to it just like cinema does.
The hell of all of this is that if Edge of Tomorrow has one problem, its that its structure, so un-cinema-esque, occasionally distracting, becomes impossible to ignore. But that is not hard to get away from, because the use of gaming tropes in Edge of Tomorrow would be so much more powerful if it were a game in and of itself.