Why We Montage
“It’s like Groundhog Day!” an audience member shouted, 45 minutes into a press screening of Edge of Tomorrow attended by my friend Eric Snider in Portland. If you’ve ever wondered why things like Two and a Half Men or Big Bang Theory are the way they are, it’s because these are the kinds of people that populate our nation’s focus groups and studio audiences, halfway house residents dictating studios’ assumptions about the average American. I swear, attend enough press screenings and focus groups, and you will eventually lose faith in the concept of the jury trial.
To borrow a comparison from the grunt that swamp creature made while attempting to ladle grease-soaked popcorn into his maw with a flipper, yes, Edge of Tomorrow is like Groundhog Day. That’s the pitch. Tom Cruise lives the same day – the day of a catastrophic battle against alien invaders – over and over again. Along the way, he meets some badly accented caricatures, hears Bill Paxton repeat a series of aphorisms, falls for Emily Blunt (Player 2, I think her character is called), and slowly but surely gets better at pew pew-ing stuff to death with his exoskeleton thingy.
“Groundhog D-Day,” “50 First Judgement Dates” – glib headline opportunities abound. But to extend the analogy, the major difference between Edge of Tomorrow and Groundhog Day is that whereas Groundhog Day takes a high concept and runs with it, Edge of Tomorrow just sort of tunnels into it. Imagine if Groundhog Day was 90 minutes of Bill Murray meeting with wild-eyed scientists exchanging charts and graphs about what was happening to him and how to stop it and maybe 90 seconds of all the fun stuff, like stealing groundhogs and trying to sleep with random coffee shop women, and you get an idea of Edge of Tomorrow. In Groundhog, the question of why Bill Murray kept reliving the same day was kept satisfyingly unspecified. Because the truth is, we don’t really care. We already bought in.
Edge of Tomorrow feels like a million monkeys with a million typewriters on a million grams of mescaline couldn’t have come up with it, but unfortunately spends all its style and energy trying to explain and resolve a plot device that we’ve already implicitly accepted upon buying the ticket. The craft and talent is evident, but it’s mostly wasted on non-stop exposition in an extended montage about vague aliens.
Every time I bash one of these movies, a commenter will tell me to “just shut your brain off and enjoy it, bro!”
Yeah, man, I’m trying to. It’s tough when a movie spends 40 minutes trying to make its dumb plot sound logical. Just make with the alien guts and everyone’s happy.
I don’t go into these things with a checklist, but judging by what I’ve enjoyed, I seem to have two basic requirements when it comes to mainstream sci-fi: