Note: This text is only for those who have already seen the movie and are interested in an overly thorough dissection of it.
I’m away on vacation and have had plenty of time to write something for my blog, which I guess doesn’t need to be exclusively about game design, now that I’m not really working on a game. So, enjoy.
Edge of Tomorrow – my analysis and suggestions for improvements
There’s plenty to love about Edge of Tomorrow – I wouldn’t write a long text about it if there wasn’t. But this recent sci-fi blockbuster also has some weak points, and a few aspects that could definitely be improved, and I want to discuss those points here, as well as analyze some of the plot elements and especially the ending.
The basic premise of EoT is very easy to like and become immersed in – it’s basically a computer game made into a movie, and it’s furthermore extremely well paced and comes with stunning visuals. It’s not metaphorical or psychological – although at a few occasions it shows potential to be – but simply fascinating and exciting.
Let’s start with some general plot weakness before we go through the most glaring plot holes – because they do exist.
The ability to reset time is of course not easy to provide a credible explanation to, but I think the mechanism provided here (and, I suppose, originally in the novella by Sakurazaka) is overly contrived. I was personally much more enthusiastic about the concept before the infectious-blood explanation was presented – I just assumed that this was the real secret weapon of the human army; that a few individuals were given this unique power, either because the powers that be see some kind of potential in them, or as a chance of redemption (similar to Groundhog day, which is the obvious comparison).
In hindsight, this seems to me a cleaner model. The humans could bestow on certain select individuals the ability to replay events, but because of some circumstance, maybe a technical glitch or alien sabotage, there’s only a number of replays permitted, and they become prematurely mortal again.
Not only is the infectious-blood-idea hard to digest – the whole idea of special powers being passed on through blood contact seems more like fantasy or perhaps superhero material rather than hi-tech science fiction – and it leads to many practical questions. How much blood is necessary to transfer the power? We learn that bleeding out and getting new blood will make the ability go away, but again this makes you wonder how much blood you can afford to lose, and let’s not forget that our blood is constantly refreshed through the regeneration of red blood cells. Et cetera,
Not only is the blood-transfer mechanism not a very elegant solution, but it leads to some major logical plot holes, namely:
Why would Omega (the brain of the alien hive mind) let his Alpha Mimics (the blue ones) even be on the battlefield? Remember that Cage killed his Alpha on his very first day, when he wasn’t even trained. All it took was for the creature to spill some blood on him, and Omega and the entire alien race lost its most valuable, strategic asset – time control. We know that this happened once before (that time to Rita Vratinski), but it’s amazing that it hasn’t happened many more times. In the extreme chaos of a battlefield, a Mimic has only marginally better odds of survival than a human, and the chance of nearby human soldiers accidentally getting some blood on themselves is hardly negligible.
The lack of caution on the aliens’ part is perhaps the most glaring plot hole within the narrative of the movie.
How smart is Omega really?
It’s also a bit strange that Omega can’t devise a better plan to regain the precious blood from the new alpha individual (now Cage) directly after losing it. For every day that passes, Cage’s – and mankind’s – odds are gradually improving, as they can start communicating and work out a strategy. For many weeks, even months, Cage is rather clueless about Omega’s intentions, or that it even exists. Wouldn’t it have been very easy for Omega to simply have another Alpha – or any other minion – simply abduct Cage, hold him down for a few seconds and extract his blood?
Vrataski’s somehow knowing she’s mortal again
Perhaps not connected with the major thread of this treatise, but isn’t it very unlikely that Vrataski – not tutored by a full metal bitch of her own – came to the conclusion that she had suddenly lost the power, and stopped sacrificing herself just in time? Consider the extreme time scope of both hers and Cage’s trials, as perfecting their respective ”gameplay” must have taken hundreds of iterations for every second of progress. By the time they lose the power, they must have grown accustomed to killing themselves as effortlessly and routinely as another person brushes their teeth in the morning. We learn from Vrataski that it was the lack of visions that led her to assume she no longer possessed the power, and in turn suspect it was the blood transfusion that caused it. But she can’t really know she’s lost the power – the only way to be certain is to die and not wake up, by which time it’s obviously too late.
Cage manages to avoid being hospitalized
Guess where a considerable portion of war casualties end up instead of straight to a shallow grave? They become a vegetable in some palliative care ward, slowly fading away without any chance to affect their situation. Over the course of thousands of deaths in the battlefield, not even once is Cage injured just enough to simply lose consciousness, much less become paraplegic, braindead or left a drooling cripple in a remote hospice. His only non-lethal injuries conveniently occur in the presence of Vratinski, who can handily euthanize him.
The ending, recap
Alright. When it comes to the ending, EoT definitely invites the viewers to make their own analysis. Not only is the underlying mechanism unexplained, but several events that we know must have taken place are not depicted.
In case you have forgotten the events that form the conclusion of the movie: Cage learns he’s no longer the alpha individual (having received a blood transfusion) and that he’s no longer immortal. He localizes Omega, manages not to kill the blue Alpha mimic (which would have reset the day again, this time with Omega in control), and kills Omega using grenades. Before Cage dies, he absorbs some of Omega’s blood, and thus becomes the alpha individual again.
Two minor issues here
Why did the blue alpha alien not kill Cage properly? Why not use all of his speed and force to just tear him apart? Also, it’s extremely unlikely that the explosion that destroys Omega, a blast powerful enough to make the entire surface area shake as if by an earthquake, doesn’t instantly kill Cage, who’s just some dozen yards away and in water (which transports shockwaves much more efficiently than air). However, this probably falls in the category of common action movie physics, so let’s move on.
The ending – what happened?
Suddenly, we see Cage wake up again, this time at a point prior to his usual reseting point. He’s now back to when the movie started; the day he arrives in London to check in with general Brigham. This time, we learn that the aliens have been defeated, and humans forces are regaining control of Europe.
Obviously, there are some unanswered questions here. What happened between the scene where Cage almost dies, and the scene where he wakes up in the helicopter, and the humans have won? There are two alternatives here.
- Killing Omega just once is enough to eliminate it from every time line, no matter how it is reset or who is in control. This means that even if we rewind the events to the day before the human coalition attempts to liberate France, Omega has mysteriously disappeared, leaving the entire alien race incapacitated. Since Cage hasn’t been accused of being a deserter in this timeline, there’s no waking up in the military camp instead of the helicopter bound for London, which is the previous wake-up point.
- Absorbing Omega blood instead of just alpha mimic blood grants Cage extended powers, and he is now free to rewind time to any desired point in the past. Cage goes back to a point much earlier, even before the helicopter scene, and can now start working out a proper plan to fight the invasion. This time he knows the real location of Omega (under the Louvre) and he’s not branded a deserter, and is consequently in a much better position to coordinate an attack. After an unknown number of attempts, he bombs the Louvre, then proceeds to arrive in London in the same manner as in the opening sequence of the movie.
The first model implies rules of physics that aren’t explicitly presented anywhere, not even in Dr. Carter’s scientific expositions, namely that some events, such as Omega’s existence, lie parallel to the live-die-repeat-cycle. This is something we can only theorize about, although we know for a fact that once the first Alpha Mimic died (back on the beach in France) he didn’t return in subsequent cycles, so maybe Omega suffers the same fate as Alpha Mimics – if they die and their blood is absorbed by someone else, they die ”permanently”.
The second model requires us to accept that a lot of events weren’t shown in the movie, but in return doesn’t need the rather complex parallel-timeline model.
Plot holes aside…
All in all, there’s plenty to love about EoT. It sets up many interesting scenarios that especially computer game players can relate to (”I’ve never come this far before!”) and in the sequences where Cage knows he’s no longer immortal, the excitement really peaks (comparable to playing a game with no more extra lives).
There are instances when the psychological aspects of their relationship could be explored much further. In the cabin scene, e.g, there’s suddenly an interesting tension, as Vratinski starts wondering how far Cage has gone in his attempts to romance her, and how much he knows about her. I thought for a second that the movie would take a new direction here, veering into a psychological thriller where Vratinski needs to ask herself how much she can trust Cage. Who knows all the tricks he’s tried so far to score?
Time for my suggestions!
Here’s how I would have made this movie.
- Skip the blood part. It’s too contrived and not at all elegant. Let the power to rewind time be a groundbreaking human invention. Have an alien agent sabotage the technology so that the human super soldiers suddenly run out of attempts.
- Put more emphasis on Cage’s character. How does he develop as a person during this ordeal? This is what makes Groundhog day interesting.
- Let the moment where Cage reaches a dead end be the climax. He already reaches a point where he can’t possibly make both him and Vratinski survive (this is also in the cabin scene) – let this be the pivotal moment. He will realize that no matter what he tries, he can’t progress and keep her alive at the same time. The solution is to not contact Vratinski at all, but to go on by himself. I think it would make for an interesting sentimental twist; she will have been his mentor for months, maybe years (again, imagine the amount of iterations necessary to achieve the level of perfection seen in the movie), but ends up not knowing him at all. This will save her life. And we can even insert a romantic ending if needed – remember how she reveals her middle name at one point? Cage can approach her after the war has ended and tell her about their time together, using her middle name as some kind of token.
Thanks for reading.