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Edge of Tomorrow
Warner Bros.

Gaming

Edge of Tomorrow is the perfect video game to film adaptation

…and it’s not even based on a video game!

Everyone at this point knows the challenges of adapting video games to film and how they misfire more often than not. 2022 has already seen one in Uncharted, which, aside from some nods at in-game parkour and Tom Holland’s costume, feels closer to a generic action blockbuster than to any of the games it pulls inspiration from.

A common criticism is that video games movies can’t capture what makes a video game unique – the experience of playing it – and instead bring already thin characters and plots to the big screen. Video games can get away with poor story because they have fun gameplay to fall back on. Films can’t.

So it’s odd that the best video game film in recent memory… didn’t have a video game to adapt from.

Edge of Tomorrow is easily overlooked on Tom Cruise’s and Emily Blunt’s long filmographies. It didn’t even come close to placing number one at the box office its opening weekend, not even earning half of what The Fault in Our Stars pulled in. I enjoyed it that opening weekend, however, and upon kicking back and watching it again for the first time in 8 years the other day, I came to a realization – Edge of Tomorrow is the best film adaptation of a video game made.

“Live. Die. Repeat.” says its tagline (and eventual title for home media), and tells audiences exactly what to expect. Cruise’s Major William Cage lives through a mission, dies, and has to repeat the process many, many times. If you thought Dormammu killed Doc Strange a bunch during their bargaining, just wait until you see how many times Cruise bites the dust.

Just like in a video game, Cage gets a little more experienced after each death, learning what parts of the battlefield (re: level) to trek and what false steps to avoid. He goes from whimpering spin doctor to Classic Cruise Action Hero by, if you’ll allow me, gaining XP and using that XP to level up his skills. His development throughout the film is just like a player trudging throughout a difficult game and gradually getting better and more experienced level by level.

Edge of Tomorrow includes a stealth mission ripped straight from Triple A games. Cage and Blunt’s Sergeant Rita Vrataski must infiltrate the Ministry of Defence to convince Brendan Gleeson’s General Brigham to give them a device to aid their fight. Just like in a stealth video game, Cage must remember the patterns of guards to avoid detection. Clearly, he’s failed this level a few times. Then when they finally meet the general, Cage has to select the right dialogue options to persuade him a la modern RPGs, like Bioware games. 

The final set piece of the film mirrors a final video game mission. After escaping from the Ministry of Defence, Cage and Vrataski recruit allies for the final push. I love when NPCs join in for missions and boss fights, like when soldiers hop on Master Chief’s Warthog or when a half-dozen allies get summoned for Elden Ring’s Radahn fight, and Edge of Tomorrow’s final push mirrors this. Cage takes over a turret during this fight to mow down aliens in a sequence that resembles playing a video game much more than anything in most video game movies. Cage then trudges through a bleak final level before defeating the Alpha alien (the final boss) and beating the game, essentially.

By the end of the film I had an epiphany – not only is Edge of Tomorrow a great video game to film adaptation, it’s a great spiritual adaption of one of my favorite games: Returnal (never mind that the film came out seven years before the game). The rogue-like nature of the film perfectly mirrors Returnal’s structure, with Cage starting the game over with each death. He uses his knowledge of his last run to aid him in his next, just like restarting a cycle in Returnal. The biggest parallel I drew between the two are the enemy designs. The aliens in both Returnal and Edge of Tomorrow are large, spinning, tentacle-y monsters that can easily knock around their puny human enemies. 

When Hollywood wants to next adapt a video game for the big screen, it should look first to a largely forgotten 2014 Tom Cruise flick for inspiration. Edge of Tomorrow captures the essence of playing a video game in ways that Mortal Kombat or Assassin’s Creed, with their wink and nods to their source materials, just haven’t.

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