Edge of Tomorrow mimics video game respawning.
Video game adaptations have generally been pretty awful. Edge of Tomorrow isn't based on a video game (it's actually based on a Japanese novel), but it manages to feel more like a video game than any game-based movie that I've ever seen, while still providing an interesting and fun narrative built upon a unique time-travel premise.
The movie takes place in a present-day earth that has been invaded by hostile aliens, slowly but steadily consuming the cities of Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, and the combined forces of earth's nations can't slow them down. William Cage (Tom Cruise) is ordered into active combat in a surprise assault against the aliens, despite being a propaganda officer rather than an actual soldier. During the assault, the human soldiers are ambushed and slaughtered, but Cage manages to kill an alien only to be boiled alive by the alien's acidic blood. However, Cage gains the alien's ability to go back in time to reset the day after he dies. So when Cage dies, he immediately wakes up back at the army base just prior to the invasion to start the day over again.
You have died! Would you like to continue?
Cage gets stuck in a "Groundhog Day" cycle, constantly reliving the same failed invasion over and over again. He tries to change the outcome, but plays such an insignificant role in the grand scheme of things that his efforts are all in vain, and he must repeatedly experience the invasion until he has effectively memorized every event. In each repeat cycle, he gets a little bit better at staying alive, just like a video gamer playing a trial-and-error level in an old-school video game (think Castlevania, Contra, Ninja Gaiden, or the more recent Demon's Souls). He learns the location of every alien, every mortar shell, every landmine, every piece of flying debris, until he can essentially walk through the invasion with his eyes closed either avoiding or eliminating threats with virtually no effort.
As a gamer, it was very interesting for me to watch a film narrative that is completely based around one of gaming's central conceits: respawning after a character dies. The bulk of the movie takes place during looping time, and I thoroughly enjoyed all of it.
Subverting Hollywood action tropes
In addition to reminding me of games, this movie also seems to be poking fun at blockbuster Hollywood movies as well. The action is repeated so that it becomes mundane. The character eventually begins behaving like an action movie "badass" (effortlessly dodging attacks, blindly shooting and killing aliens, and generally moving about with perfectly choreographed action), but it is all treated as trivial and inconsequential, and the audience is well aware that these actions are the result of rehearsal rather than innate skill. The action is even presented as boring to a degree. Cage behaves like an efficient one-man army, but he's really just going through the motions.
Lastly, the audience doesn't have any sense of anxiety for the character throughout most of the movie, since we all know that he's never in any real danger and that he can't die. In many ways, the action of Hollywood movies in general has gotten so over-the-top that it deflates any sense of suspense for the audience. It's all so perfectly choreographed that the audience can just turn off it's brain, not worry about the results of an action, and just enjoy the eye candy. Edge of Tomorrow pokes at this concept with a stick, emphasizing the dullness and meaninglessness of the action and the protagonist's very life. Even the character doesn't have any sense of self-preservation; if anything at all goes wrong, he just kills himself and starts over!
The intentionally mind-numbing repetitiveness of the action subtly subverts mainstream Hollywood action tropes.
Cage's perfectly choreographed action hero stunts are rote and mundane, in stark contrast to most action movies that highlight such actions. It shines a spotlight on just how unrealistic the action and heroes in movies have become. We're more willing to accept Cage's actions because they are the result of practice and memorization. He's not lucky; he doesn't have a "spider sense"; he's not stronger or smarter or better than his opponents in any way; he's not an action hero.
A glitchy ending (spoilers ahead)
It's a shame that towards the end of the movie, Cage loses his time-resetting power, but still has to defeat the aliens with his small band of soldiers in typical action movie fashion. At this point, the movie degrades right back into the mind-numbing action schlock that it had been intentionally [or maybe it was unintentionally?] lampooning for the past hour and a half.
I have no issue with Cage being depicted as a competent soldier in the end. At this point, Cage is effectively a highly-trained specialist soldier with the equivalent of years or maybe even decades of experience. But the movie seems to forget that Cage's prowess is based primarily on his extensive knowledge of the enemy, environments, and situations that he's been fighting in during the loops. He was never perfect in his previous actions, and right up until the end, he was still dependent on the time loops to get him through a situation. Suddenly that is gone, but he shows the acute awareness of his environment despite having no familiarity with it.
An unnecessary and unwelcome romance subplot drags down the last chapter.
I also could have done without the forced romance between the two lead characters. I didn't have a problem with Cage developing an attraction to Rita. This is actually perfectly understandable, since he has spent the equivalent of years with her and had grown to know her intimately. For most of the movie, the attraction is unrequited, but I knew in the back of my head that they'd hook up or kiss in the end. And that's exactly what happened, despite Rita's rejections throughout the entire movie. Despite making a mockery of Hollywood action tropes, this movie's writers still fell into the trap of the obligatory romance between the male and female leads. Sigh...
Cage's attraction to Rita does offer a bit more consequence to his actions. Cage knows that he can't press on and defeat the aliens if Rita dies, because then the time loop will cease, and she'll stay dead. This helps to keep the audience engaged going into the final act of the movie, but the final kiss was completely unnecessary.
I also don't understand the point of establishing Tom Cruise's character as a famous propaganda officer. If the writers just want to establish that he's not a trained soldier, they could just make him a fresh recruit or draftee or an actual deserter. The movie never makes use of his former rank or celebrity status again except as a point of humor in the moot final scene. If the movie had just started with him waking up at the field headquarters, I don't think it would have changed the rest of the script much at all.
Still a satisfying sci-fi action adventure
All in all, I enjoyed Edge of Tomorrow a lot more than I thought I would. It steps above and beyond the typical dumb Hollywood action movie, even if it still falls victim to some of the traps associated with said movies. It's beginning and end are a little weak, but the majority of the action is fun and the psychology of living without consequences is interesting.
I'd definitely recommend this film to any gamer who wants to see a movie that actually captures the feel of playing a video game. But it's appeal can extend beyond just gamers. My dad also liked the movie, even though he never touches a video game controller - although his standards are admittedly much lower than mine. The sci-fi and time travel concepts are well-executed and relatively novel, so general science fiction fans should find something to like here. And if you're amused by popcorn action flicks, then you may also like the action in this movie, even if you don't understand its subtle subversiveness.