At the Edge of Tomorrow, All You Need Is Kill

This past weekend I finally got around to seeing Edge Of Tomorrow and having just recently finished All You Need Is Kill, the book the film is based on, I thought I would write up a comparison between the two while they’re still fresh in my mind.

Since it’s difficult to compare the two stories without talking about what happens in them and especially how they end, since that is probably the biggest disparity between the two, I should warn you that there are major spoilers upcoming throughout the rest of this post.

Character and Setting Changes:

Disappointingly, but predictably, Edge Of Tomorrow was very much a Hollywood and Westernized take on the original light novel.

Instead of being set in Japan, the story is set in Europe where the mainland has fallen to the Mimic invasion and the humanity’s forces are using England as a staging ground for their next major military operation, a beachhead landing in France. This is, of course, very reminiscent of the D-Day Invasion of Normandy, and I thought that was a good way to make the story culturally resonant for Western audiences.

As it is set in Europe, the protagonist (played by Tom Cruise) is an American press officer named Major William Cage. While not the Japanese soldier Keiji Kiriya from the novel, the surname “Cage” does pay homage to the nickname “Killer Cage” that Keiji is given at the end of the novel by the American spec forces soldiers who can’t pronounce his name correctly.

The other difference between Cage and Keiji is that Cage is actually a high ranking officer who has avoided combat by being a press officer. He ends up being put among the front line troops as a deserter after refusing to participate in the fighting with his camera crew. This change largely creates a greater ascent to the position of being a hero than simply having him be a grunt foot soldier like Keiji was.

Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) is not so different in the movie. She is older (in the novel she enlists when she is 16 and is only 19 by the time the story takes place), and she is British instead of American. She is also the one who trains Cage to fight, not Ferrell (Bill Paxton in the film), which is actually a change I like. It puts the two characters in contact throughout the story, which makes the chemistry they develop feel more authentic.

Another neat little thing I wanted to touch on was how Edge Of Tomorrow was able to take advantage of the medium differences. The film featured some scenes where the viewer isn’t certain if the characters have been through this loop yet or not, which is a harder trick to pull off in a book (at least without confusing the reader). I think it was a very effective way of creating some powerful moments in the story as well as a good way to keep the viewer guessing about what is going on.

Western Military Culture and Weapons:

This might be the most nit-picky of the points I’m going to make, but I think it’s worth touching on. I’m also not sure how much my impressions here come from the fact that there just simply isn’t time to touch on everything in a movie and how much they are derived from cultural differences.

Anyway, in the book, the Jackets that soldiers use to fight the Mimics are viewed as more necessity than breakthrough weapon. While they are important for protecting soldiers from corrosive Mimic blood, they aren’t considered state of the art. In fact, the whole reason Rita and (eventually Keiji) use battle axes is because the weapons on the Jackets are not all that efficient, as soldiers are mostly meant to be meat shields.

In the movie Jackets are shown more as powerful state-of-the-art weapons. They never explain why Rita uses a broadsword (other than that it looks badass). While Cage and his squad are portrayed as sacrificial lambs, it’s more because they are a lesser unit (seemingly a disciplinary unit) rather than that infantry in general is meant to be cannon fodder. In the book the battle goes badly for Keiji and his unit simply because the army uses Jacket soldiers as a way to slow down advances while their artillery cleans up. In the movie things go badly because the Mimics expect the invasion when they shouldn’t.

I think the American love of our military makes it difficult to tell a story where the commanders would admittedly use foot soldiers purely as fodder. I think we have an impression that every soldier is important and the leaders would try to keep them alive if possible. This is a very subtle different between the movie and the book, but it was just something that struck me.

The Mimics:

I have to say I think the book Mimics are way more interesting and “better sci-fi” than they are in the movie. In the book they are essentially nano bots sent to Earth by another intelligent race with the express purpose of making the planet habitable for their masters.

I find this explanation both more original and more thought provoking than the way Mimics are portrayed in the film. For one thing, the race that sent them was described in a way that made them seem rather human. They couldn’t tell if there was anything living on Earth, and there was a lot of political debate about deploying the nano bots without determining if anything was living there. However, the right wing decided it was in the race’s best interest not to wait for an exploratory mission to learn about Earth. I thought this was an interesting commentary on how humanity might handle a similar situation if Earth were dying and we needed to leave. In fact, the whole description struck me as reminiscent of how our political parties debate and handle many things nowadays. However, it is entirely absent from the film.

The other thing that the movie changes is the time travel explanation. The explanation in the book has to do with the Mimics using some sort of tachyon-based communication system that allows them to send signals through time, and as such they can change the outcome of a battle by knowing what’s coming. Keiji (and Rita before him) ends up accidentally hijacking the signal, which is why he gets stuck in the loop. While this is certainly a very pseudo-science explanation behind time travel and no more realistic than what the movie uses, I thought it was a more interesting approach.

In the movie the Mimics are changed to a more stereotypical hivemind race that happens to have a time control ability. They are controlled by the “Omega” which will reset time if it senses that a battle is being lost. There isn’t any explanation given as to why exactly the Mimics are invading Earth, and the time travel aspects of the race are just sort of inherent in their nature rather than being advanced science.

I think these changes were made because the hivemind race is something that Western audiences are familiar with from other pop sci-fi stories. An enemy having a hivemind is also very convenient for a story, since the good guys don’t have to win an entire war, they just have to kill the brain that runs everything else. This works particularly well in a movie because it creates a conflict that can quickly bring complete closure to what’s going on without rushing things and trying to squeeze more action or explanation into a two or three hour time frame.

The Ending:

Speaking of “complete closure”, the way that the movie ends is probably the most noticeable difference from the book. In All You Need Is Kill, Rita knows that killing the Mimic antenna (or “Alphas” as they are known in the movie) is how you end the loop. She also discovers that both she and Keiji are antennas in the Mimic’s communication network, and that only one of them can survive the loop and continue the fight against the Mimics.

This is a rather gut wrenching ending that highlights no matter what you try to do, you can’t save everyone. In battle (and I suppose in life) you have to make tough choices, and things don’t always work out well. Sometimes they simply can’t. This is illustrated not only in the way that Keiji has to kill Rita, but also in the way that he can’t save all of his squad mates, some of whom don’t make it out of the loop alive. There’s also Yonabaru, one of his squad mates who sees Keiji go berserk against the Mimics after Rita’s death and is disgusted by the reckless way he fought and endangered the lives of others.

Even though Keiji is able to win the battle, he loses the girl he loves and some of his friends, either to death or to their lack of wanting to be around him. It’s also only one battle, not the entire war. A major part of the story is the isolation in which Rita lived when she was stuck in the time loop. At the end of the novel, Keiji takes her place having experienced something that he won’t be able to relate to anyone else. He has to continue fighting the war without Rita and essentially in isolation, since no one else will understand what he’s gone through.

Edge Of Tomorrow goes for the very Hollywood ending where everything works out. Cage and the squad he is assigned to as a grunt go with Rita to fight the hivemind. During the mission all of them are killed, but Cage is able to destroy the hivemind. In doing so, he seems to hijack the time travel power one more time and goes back to his arrival in London, even before he gets arrested for refusing a direct order to fight. Only now, in this new timeline, the Mimics are already defeated before the invasion begins.

The movie pans out in a very stereotypical happy ending. It also plays to the idea of American optimism, the thought that if you work hard enough and do the right thing (and make the right sacrifices), you will overcome and things will work out well for you. Cage and his team make the ultimate sacrifice in order to stop the war, and in the end all of them survive, though only Cage has any memory of the events that occurred.

If we want to go really Western cultural on this, we can also see Cage as a sort of Time Loop Jesus (or whatever the Scientologist messianic figure is). He dies for our sins, rids us of the alien invaders, and is reborn three days earlier in a sort of time-reversed Easter miracle along with everyone else. It plays to the sort of cultural archetypes we’re used to in the West and to the Christian idea of being rewarded in the time loop hereafter for all the good deeds you’ve done. It avoids the harder existential ideas found in the book, which I personally found more interesting.

Conclusion:

Ultimately, even though it probably sounds like this isn’t the case, I have to say that I did really enjoy Edge Of Tomorrow. I think it’s a solid action movie, and despite all of the Hollywood elements I complained about, it does do a fair job of breaking away from the stereotypical action mold in a few ways. Many of the action movies we see nowadays are very lighthearted and full of quick witty banter and comedic moments. Either that or they are so over-the-top as to, again, be somewhat comedic. Edge Of Tomorrow, even with the happy ending, is grittier than things like the Marvel action hero movies or other similar films.

Rita Vrataski is also a great female action hero character, and though the story is very much about Cage, she stands on her own and isn’t the helpless female love interest that we see in so many action films. She trains him and ends up leading him through a lot of the action that goes on. I think that in and of itself is very commendable.

However, as I’ve alluded to above, I do think that the book provides a more interesting story with a deeper (if darker or harder) message about life and war. I think a lot of American pop-lit these days (regardless of medium) spins out many of the same culturally biased messages without much thought, focusing more on trying to tell a fun story and worrying less about what’s being said. While there is certainly nothing wrong with a purely entertaining story, when the majority of popular narratives fall into that category and there seems to be little that tackles bigger or different ideas, things start to feel a little boring and repetitive.

For these reasons I was a bit disappointed in the way that Edge Of Tomorrow took the story. But, as I said, if you’re looking for a good action movie, it’s certainly worth seeing. I’d just also recommend reading the book if for no other reason than to experience a story that’s slightly outside the American mainstream cultural narratives.

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