It's a movie dedicated to the audience :
Edge of Tomorrow sets in a universe dedicated to the audience because it brings the audience to question itself on several levels. You could interpret everything that has to do with video games aspect as an answer to this question: "what role remains to the audience in front of movies that look like video games? " This question is similar to the one our hero asks himself: how do you behave when your life always starts back to the same save point? And, the only thing you can do to get through is achieving your objectives. The most obvious link between the movie and its audience is of course the main character we'll follow. Everything starts in the introduction: our main character is among the media figures seen on television. We can see him waking up in a helicopter as if he was waking up from the other side of the screen. He was arrogant in front of the cameras, cocky, calling upon “enrollment” and getting in action: he's immediately called to order, put in a situation he doesn't control and forced to act. He refuses to film the battlefields, and so he is thrown in the middle of the military landing. The battle begins and our hero barely survives. We barely see the character played by Emily Blunt, an iconic soldier, whose nickname is “the Angel of Verdun”, briefly introduced in the beginning. Nonetheless, she makes eye contact with our hero, announcing a meeting. But the woman soldier is immediately hit by a missile and dies in front of us. Our hero shouts out: “What the fuck!”. Nothing happens like planned and everything ends like we feared: the character is doomed to die and the unbearable image of his death happens.
This is followed by our main character waking up earlier in the past: the hero finds himself lock into a loop where each of his deaths leads to him to get back to the same starting point again and again. The explanation of the phenomenon will be known at the same moment we'll discover the “primary” objective which was until then unknown or denied by the hero: the world must be saved. When he first died in battle, the hero has been contaminated by the enemy and now owns his ability to travel in time loops. He knows what's going to happen, for him, it has already happened, and, now he has to make a “victorious” version of it. In this goal, the character will have to be competent, but also to meet the iconic soldier and discover the person behind the role. He will end behind a screen, with the promise of an uncertain future, as the audience. The character's journey is explicitly linked to the audience : as if they were the news broadcast viewers, appealed to take part in the action by a military propagandist/famous actor. And, this audience has mixed feelings: on one hand it wants to challenge the one who pushes him to enrollment and on the other, desires/fears getting on the field/in the movie. We'll get both, as Cruise character is being demoted and sent to the battlefield.
"Edge of Tomorrow sets in a universe dedicated to the audience because it brings the audience to question itself on several levels"
But our hero isn't skilled and the movie doesn't proceed in a satisfying way. Our link-character yells : “what the fuck!”. What kind of audience would like a movie with an incapable hero who fails and dies not even 20 minutes after the movie started ! The movie will play again and again the scene to come to a satisfying conclusion where the heroes kiss each other and save the world, as the viewers wish. But before getting to that point he must always redo the same thing, meaning playing the same movie again, or rather a new episode of the same film, to finally become a simple viewer and leave the movie behind himself as we do.
The viewer is so almost able of taking part in the story, even anticipating it. By the same token, he's the one who tries to get involve in the hero's goals and is surprised by them too. The movie pushes this logic even further by considering its viewer simultaneously as the one who sees Tom Cruise the actor (with its film in mind) in a marketed action movie as the one who is stepping in the movie, as if it were a dream. Indeed, you could enlist the career development of the movie star in the audience/character duality. Like many of Tom Cruise's movies, the movie is an analysis of his filmography as a game about his image. The officer he plays, calling out to the audience at the beginning, is the mighty arrogant actor many see in him, or worse, the chief of propaganda they suspect through his appearances (Cruise being the recognized representative of the Church of Scientology). His ultra-bright smile and his clearly confidence reinforced his "media character".
As often in Tom Cruise movies, his character in total control is going to fall into the uncertain (The Firm, Mission Impossible, Minority Report, Eyes Wide Shut…). Edge of Tomorrow explicitly deals with expiation: the actor is told to leave the screens, stop acting like a smart guy and play a role in the action. But, despite the fact you enjoy seeing the star a bit roughed up, you can only identify yourself to his un-control and be disappointed by the deadly conclusion. The movie ends while it barely started. This conflict between control and un-control will be in the center of the repetitions: for Cruise, it'll be about replaying part of his filmography and making the audience love him again. A lot of scenes seem directly taken from older Cruise movies: he is a soldier like in many films, he ends up hanged by a wire as in Mission Impossible, facing an extra-terrestrial invasion as in War of the Worlds, has his face mutilated and is sent back to his past as in Vanilla Sky.
He can also predict in advance what's going to happen and guide a character as in Minority Report and ends up face down in his hospital bed as in Born a 4th July. For the actor, it's about finding a way to become again the quite reliable superhero he was in the Mission Impossible sequels or in Knight and Day, and to achieve this, he plays back all his career. The fact Tom Cruise doesn't seem to age strengthens this idea. He sometimes appears rejuvenate, sometimes older as he was also stuck in a sort of time loop in which he keeps on playing his own role. Once the “right formula” is found, it seems then logic that rather than becoming a sacrificial hero he chooses to survive. Tom Cruise is not the only crew member who displays his references : notice Emily Blunt recently played in two science fiction movies, including one which was about the magic power of superior beings, and the other about time travels.
Logically, being purely meta-discursive, the film assumes its dreamy side, especially in two sequences. We reported earlier: before Tom Cruise is sent behind enemy lines, the film shows us our hero "outside the screen" waking up in a helicopter. The conscientious viewer will put the image in the back of his mind, assuming the movie could conclude with a "it was all just a dream" twist ending. But this hypothesis will pretty soon be disregarded by the viewer. Sleep is rather a poetic motif, which allows you first to switch from the screen to fiction then to time travel. In this meta-universe, it quickly becomes clear our hero Tom Cruise has to rescue the iconic soldier who he has already fallen in love with at "first sight".
"(...)for Cruise, it'll be about replaying part of his filmography and making the audience love him again"
To achieve that, our hero must become a trained soldier. After many unsuccessful attempts, our hero becomes efficient and effective and finally saves the girl. But there's an astonishing reversal of situation: the soldier, instead of following her "hero" shouts "Find me when you wake up." and disappears in an explosion. Cruise character dies and the film reboots, showing us Cruise waking up at starting point. The scene reminds us of usual premonition sequences from other movies. When the character wakes up, he has now a goal: find the angel of Verdun and understand what's happening to him. To sum up, adding meaning to this looping effect which affects his life. He will indeed hear the explicit verbalization of his main goal, "saving the world", and will be given promise of new "visions" (which will look like video game mission). Consistently, the film allows himself not to change direction, but to modulate it, going where we would not take the time to go or displaying alternative possibilities.