Doug Liman‘s Edge of Tomorrow is easily one of the most beloved films of the year. It’s a hit with critics and has garnered passionate reactions from its fans. The only problem people seem to have is with its ending.
Before we go any further: beware of spoilers if you haven’t seen Edge of Tomorrow yet. If you haven’t, shame on you.
The movie is so different, fresh and original that, to some people, ending on a familiar/happy note doesn’t gel with its riskier choices. Would it have been more badass if Major Bill Cage (Tom Cruise) had died to save the world? Of course he does sacrifice himself repeatedly, but what if he had stayed dead? The problem is that a downer ending isn’t everyone’s idea of a good time.
But crowd-pleasing commerce isn’t why the film ended the way that it did. Genre demand is why.
We spoke with screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie, who explained the original script for Edge of Tomorrow was tonally much darker. Cruise stressed the importance of the story’s humor, even when people like McQuarrie initially didn’t see the joke. Once Edge of Tomorrow began to lean more heavily on the comedy, that’s when this happy ending materialized. As McQuarrie reminds us, comedies generally have to go back to the way things were, and that’s exactly what Edge of Tomorrow did.
“I was always arguing it has to end on the helicopter,” he explained. “You have to be thrown back to wondering, ‘Did the movie even happen? Did any of this really happen?’ To that end, there were a million things you had to do with the writing and visually, to serve that ending. That presented a lot of challenges and debate for us. We really struggled to deliver what the movie needed to be emotionally. I know the ending was somewhat controversial, with some people who didn’t like it. I think the only way to make those people happy would to end the movie in a way that wasn’t happy. We weren’t interested in doing that. It needed to end in a way that wasn’t harsh.”
McQuarrie argued for another element that, unlike returning to Cage sleeping on the helicopter, didn’t make the final cut: a pretty bonkers sounding moment in the third act.
“When Tom loses the power, and they go to Paris, and Tom is preparing the team as they go into Paris where he’s telling them the rules of the movie, he tells the team everything the audience knows,” says McQuarrie. “Basically, he told them: ‘Kill as many Mimics as you want, but do not kill an Alpha. If you kill an alpha we’ll be right back here having this conversation, and we won’t even know it. The enemy will know we’re coming and they’ll kill us all.’ When they get to Paris there’s the classic horror movie scene where one of them gets separated from the group, and he gets attacked by an Alpha and kills it. As he kills it, you see the Omega reset the day and you see the point-of-view of the villain. We cut to the plane and hear the same speech all over again. This time when he gets to the line, ‘You can bet they’ll have a plan to kill us all,’ the ship gets hit. As the audience, you realize the enemy knows they’re coming. The problem was you were so exhausted by the time you got to that point.”
Ultimately they didn’t want to add any more sci-fi, timey wimey talk. They already had a lot of exposition to get through, to the point where one day both Liman and Emily Blunt expressed their frustration for a scene where Rita explains the rules to Cage. McQuarrie, on the other hand, saw it as necessity. When they were filming that scene, Liman complained that he hadn’t needed that much exposition to make his spy thrillers, so McQuarrie asked, “Doug, how many time traveling aliens were there in The Bourne Identity?”
What makes for too much exposition, too many rules, or a lack of clarity is obviously subjective. This isn’t the first time McQuarrie has experienced an unexpected level of confusion/criticism over something he didn’t see as a problem. Some people found the ending of Jack Reacher problematic, unsure whether James Barr’s emotional response meant to imply his already disproven guilt.
Not until Edge of Tomorrow opened in theaters last month did the ending become a huge topic of discussion, at least on the Internet. Sometimes a “tacked-on” happy ending is a cheat or a trick, but not always. In the case of Edge of Tomorrow it happened to be a decision that simply felt right to the people telling the story.