When I started this blog, I wasn’t sure what form it would take – reviews, stream of consciousness thoughts on movies, essays, whatever. I’m still not sure. I think the hardest part for me right now is figuring out how to write something that’s not “I liked it” or “I liked it too.” So this time I am going to look at what (I think) happened to a movie that had seven screenwriters working on it. This is officially the first time that this blog’s title makes sense with a post.
To cut to the chase, I liked Edge of Tomorrow, but I didn’t love it. The main reason I didn’t love it is that I found its world a little confusing, and I think that maybe this is due to the number of screenwriters.
The original script, by Dante Harper, made the Black List (the list of the best unproduced scripts in Hollywood). Once purchased by Warner Bros., Joby Harold reworked it. Then Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman. Doug Liman brought in Jez and John-Henry Butterworth, whom he’d worked with on Fair Game. Then Tom Cruise brought in Christopher McQuarrie, whom he’d worked with on Valkyrie and Jack Reacher. Thus the finished script was at least six drafts removed from that Black List winner (and it wasn’t even complete when filming started), and has a few holes.
The first hole is in the second scene of the movie, which tries to answer a simple question: why does Tom Cruise (like most people, I rarely remember the names of the characters Tom Cruise plays and always refer to him as “Tom Cruise” when talking about the movie, kind of like “Liam Neeson” in Taken) get sent into battle in the first place? The scene implies that his cynical career advice and cowardly weaseling piss off the general enough to get him stripped of his rank, labeled a deserter, and sent as cannon fodder in the first wave of the invasion. But then you realize that the general specifically requested Cruise and prearranged his transfer . . . before they’d ever met and before Cruise pissed him off. So he knew Cruise was going to be a coward and already planned to punish him? There must have been a more interesting story in one of the previous drafts, because this seems like an overcomplicated way of getting Tom Cruise into battle, which is all the scene needed to accomplish.
Along those lines, how does Cruise’s squad of misfits suddenly become the Dirty Dozen for the final sequence? Up until now, they’ve been comic relief, cannon fodder, or both. All of them appear to hate Cruise. And none of them have been developed as characters much past a gender, accent, or quirk (in the case of the fat British guy who wears a jock strap into combat, all three). I imagine earlier drafts of the screenplay expanded their roles before the ending, but those slowly dropped out even though the ending remained unchanged.
Finally, why is Rita called “Full Metal Bitch”? This may seem minor, but it hints at my biggest issue with this movie: I feel like there is a ton of back story we’re not seeing. And while I understand we can’t see all of it, I wish the glimpses we get were more fully realized. Pacific Rim does a much better job of this. In that movie, I’m not sure exactly why it’s impressive that our hero piloted a giant robot all by himself, but I understand that it’s made his reputation what it is, and that the fact that he and his commander are the only ones to have ever done it gives them some sort of connection. Even though the audience learns this in two throwaway lines, this bit of back story brings into focus characters, relationships, and motivations. Glimpses like this are missing from Edge of Tomorrow. So why is she called “Full Metal Bitch”? Comment on the dehumanization of warfare? Feminist statement? Chauvinist insult? The movie’s answer seems to be, “Probably because it sounds scary.”
All my bitching aside, I do think the script succeeds in two ways normally overlooked in the action genre. First, the film is snappily paced. Its runtime is less than two hours, its overly expository but necessary opening scene is barely two minutes long, and even the aforementioned scene with Cruise and the general is over in three minutes. In other words, it doesn’t waste time. Contrast with Transformers: Age of Extinction’s runtime of two hours and 45 minutes (!). Second, unlike a lot of action movies, it has a sense of humor. McQuarrie came up with multiple ways for Cruise to die early in the movie – some unexpected (such as accidentally being run over by a tank after a poorly timed escape), all funny (again, the tank). I read an entirely believable story that the upcoming Batman V Superman has a “no jokes” policy, but thankfully Edge of Tomorrow embraces the humor inherent in its concept.
These strengths made me focus on the flaws all the more, though. I found it hard not compare Edge of Tomorrow to Pacific Rim. And despite some of the latter’s flaws, for me it was much more successful in creating a fully realized world. Edge of Tomorrow‘s world just had too many holes.