Welcome back to our blog series “Have You Watched a Good Book Lately?” The series’ intention is to track a number of books’ progression from the printed page to the silver screen and assess how well or how badly the filmmakers accomplished each of the adaptations.
Today we’re going to be discussing the adaptation of “All You Need is Kill,” written by Hiroshi Sakurazaka in 2004 then adapted as a two-part manga (a Japanese graphic novel) in 2014. The movie adaptation, “Edge of Tomorrow” (later renamed “Live. Die. Repeat.”), was adapted from both forms by screenwriters Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, and John-Henry Butterworth and director Doug Liman (“Mr. & Mrs. Smith,” “Swingers,” “The Bourne Identity”). For the purposes of this post, we are using the manga as the original story. For those of you unfamiliar with the basic premise, here is a brief synopsis of the short story (adapted from Wikipedia) and the film (adapted from imdb.com):
“Keiji Kiriya is a new recruit in the United Defense Force. Despite equipping its soldiers with powered exoskeletons, the UDF is losing its fight against the mysterious “Mimics,” extraterrestrials which have laid siege to Earth. After killing an unusual-looking Mimic in his first battle, Keiji dies himself; however, he somehow wakes up and finds that he has returned to the day before the battle. As this process continues, he finds himself caught in a time loop as his death and resurrection repeat time and time again. Keiji’s skill as a soldier grows as he passes through each time loop in a desperate attempt to change his fate.”
“An alien race pummels the Earth in an unrelenting assault, unbeatable by any military unit in the world. Major William Cage has never seen a day of combat when he is unceremoniously dropped into what amounts to a suicide mission. Killed within minutes, Cage now finds himself inexplicably thrown into a time loop-forcing him to live out the same brutal combat over and over, fighting and dying again…and again. But with each battle, Cage becomes able to engage the adversaries with increasing skill, alongside Special Forces warrior Rita Vrataski.”
From the Source’s Mouth
Let’s start our discussion with one of the main concerns of any story adaptation – how true is the film to the source material? Well, the basic premise – a soldier caught in a time-loop that causes him to relive the same day over and over – is unquestionably the same. However, the execution of the two versions, from characters to key plot points and especially to the ending, is decidedly different.
Keiji Kiriya wakes up from what he at first thinks is a bad dream. An untried soldier, he was killed on the battlefield against a mighty extraterrestrial enemy, the Mimics. Now, though, it’s the day before his unit is set to deploy. It doesn’t make sense. What he does know is that the Mimics are real and have made their way across the world to Japan, and that Japan is the only industrial nation capable of creating the composite armor for the battle jackets the soldiers wear. To protect that asset and to help win the war, the army sends a U.S. special ops unit led by Rita Vrataski. Also known as the “Full Metal Bitch,” a term of utmost respect, she is the best jacket soldier anywhere, and hers is the only military unit that’s been successful in the war. Keiji feels like he already knows her. In fact, many things feel familiar, but there’s no time for reflection; the team deploys the next day, and within a very short time, Keiji is attacked and killed by a Mimic … and wakes up in bed on the day before he’s to be deployed. After this happens twice, he tries running away, but the Mimics find him, he’s killed, and he wakes up in bed again. He tries shooting himself – he dies, but once again he wakes up in bed. He suddenly realizes that when he dies, time loops and resets. However, there are slight changes from loop to loop – i.e. sometimes Rita notices him, sometimes she doesn’t. That means the future can be changed. He will fight and learn by dying and looping, and this is how he will win the war.
As a raw recruit, he has no skills, so he begs Sergeant Ferrell to help train him, both physically and with the weapons systems he’ll be using. He learns to break down every second so that he always sees what’s coming and knows how to respond. However, he keeps running up against the weapons’ limitations. They only have a certain number of rounds; he needs a weapon that will allow him to kill as many Mimics as possible on the battlefield without stopping to reload. He goes to see Shasta Raylle, the weapons designer who made Rita’s distinctive red jacket and the 200 kg battle axe that has allowed her to take the field by force. “It took something massive to shatter a Mimic endoskeleton in one hit,” Keiji observes. “That it could kill me in the process was beside the point.”
Keiji, with his new prowess, soon becomes the focal point for the soldiers each and every time he loops. He’s shocked, though, when Rita approaches him on one pass and asks, “How many loops is this for you?” Rita, after six months fighting the Mimics, killed one that looked different from the others even as it attacked her – it had an “antenna” on top. After that, she woke up 30 hours before the battle. Each time she went back on the field, there were more Mimics protecting the one with the antenna, and every time she died, she looped back 30 hours, just like Keiji is doing now. The Mimics studied her moves during each loop and added countermeasures the next time she appeared. After speaking with Shasta, who tells her about the backup chip she makes from Rita’s suit biometrics in case the UDF’s server ever goes down, she has an epiphany: “If the Mimic with the antenna is the mimic server, which analyzes the situation and turns back time [with tachyon particles], then there must be a backup mimic with the same ability. I tried destroying the antenna of the Mimic server during some of the loops, but I still looped back … that must have been because the backup Mimic was still active. It’s not just a Mimic server, it’s a network!” To get out of the loop she has to bring down the whole network, and she has to do it in a specific sequence. She finally escapes the loop and makes her way to Japan, determined to end the war once and for all.
Rita also senses something familiar about Keiji. Then, when he answers a question she hasn’t even asked yet, she knows he’s looping too. On the battlefield the next day, the Full Metal Bitch requests permission from Sgt. Ferrell to attach him to her detail. The two fight seamlessly side-by-side as only people who have fought together in numerous battles could do, destroying the server and all the backups, and then … Keiji inexplicably wakes up 30 hours before deployment. This time around, he and Rita spend time getting to know each other, laughing and talking like two normal people before they head back into battle, once again fighting seamlessly side-by-side. But after they bring down the antenna and destroy all the backups, Rita suddenly comes swinging at Keiji with her axe:
“When a Mimic judges that the situation is against them they send a signal back into the past using their antenna. We got dragged into that Mimic time loop because our brains picked up that signal. Continuously going through that loop means we received that signal over and over again, and by doing so, our brains adapted – we became the antennas. The migraines [which they both experienced during the loops] are a side effect. As long as the backup antenna known as Keiji Kiriya exists, Rita Vrataski can’t escape the loops [and vice versa]. Only one of us can escape.”
Keiji is aghast, but he can’t let all the hard lessons of his 159 loops mean nothing. “I improved my skills by watching her fight, unlike Rita, who had been fighting the Mimics all on her own,” Keiji reasons. “So I knew when Rita would swing her weapon and how she would make her next move.” Rita takes the fatal blow acceptingly, saying “I’ve known for a long time, ever since I first got the Mimic signal, the battle always ends this way.” He stays with her until she dies and escapes the loop forever.
And now we come to the movie. I feel it imperative to point out that, no matter who was writing and directing this film, this was a “Tom Cruise” production, and Cruise plays one type of character – the humorous action fighter – in just about all his films. This film was no exception. That led to significant changes to the original storyline in addition to the ones made for the purposes of adapting the original print story to a visual medium. Don’t get me wrong – the film, especially the battle sequences, was extremely eye-popping and told a compelling story through its images, it just wasn’t the same story that sparked the film in the first place.
Cruise plays Major William Cage (sounds similar to Keiji?), a cocky army PR man who, when sent to London (not Japan) to meet with General Brigham about Operation Downfall, discovers he can’t con his way out of being sent into battle the next morning to film Earth’s last stand against the Mimics. And when Cage tries to blackmail the general by suggesting he would pin any casualties on the general’s ineptitude, he finds himself arrested for desertion and sent to Heathrow to join the first-wave infantry there. Supposed hilarity ensues as Cage is subjected to taunts from a smart-ass Master Sergeant Ferrell; a hopeless group of misfit soldiers called J-Squad, to whom he’s assigned; and being stuffed into a jacket suit completely untrained and not even shown where the weapons safety is located since he’s just so much more “dead meat.” He’s slaughtered within minutes on the battlefield and … wakes up arriving at Heathrow. He spends the rest of the first act trying to convince himself and then the Sergeant and J-Squad that all this has happened before. Each time he loops he learns a little bit more and is a little bit more prepared for the assault, but he still dies.
Rita Vrataski is the “Angel of Verdun,” the woman who singlehandedly won Earth’s only decisive victory over the Mimics shortly before Cage arrived. After several forays into battle, Cage meets her gaze on the field, and, seeing that he’s mortally wounded, she tells him to “contact me when you wake up.” She had been through the time loops, but she had lost the ability to reset time when she was given a blood transfusion. She recognizes that Cage now has the ability to loop and agrees to train him (not Sergeant Ferrell) to defeat the Mimics.
The Mimics in the film version are quite different from those in the manga. There is no “antenna,” “server,” or “backups;” instead, there is an Alpha and an Omega, as well as drones collectively joined in a hive mind. The Omega is the brain of the operation, and it’s the one that resets time every time the Mimics experience a defeat so they can go back and turn the encounter into a win for themselves. The Alpha serves as the Omega’s eyes and ears on the battlefield, the “sensors,” if you want. Most of the fighters are drones. Anyone, like Rita and Cage, who kills an Alpha and get its blood on their own wounds before they die, takes over the ability to reset time, as well as experiencing visions as to where the Omega is located. Killing the Omega destroys the brain and therefore the hive, so that’s the ultimate goal.
As you can see from above, the ending of the manga story was rather dark though compelling, and it brought both the horrific nature of war and the struggles of battling time as well as Mimics into sharp focus. Needless to say, that was not the film’s ending. Cage also loses his ability to reset time because of a blood transfusion, but he and J-Squad, along with Rita, steal a drop ship and fly to Paris, where they know the Omega is holed up. The one-liners zing past as fast as the bullets, until only Cage and Rita remain to end the war. And while Rita tells Cage that neither one of them is getting out of this, and despite being lethally impaled by an Alpha before he destroys the Omega with a bomb, Cage still manages to reset the day, this time to before his meeting with the general, a meeting no longer necessary as Earth has routed the Mimics by destroying the Omega with some “electrical overload” the day before. Cage is the only one who remembers what really happened – he looks up Rita, gives her a confident smile, and, well, all is good.
During an interview with Film School Rejects, Christopher McQuarrie acknowledged fans had issues with the ending, but revealed that it was Tom Cruise’s rightful instincts about the use of humor in the movie, [emphasis added] that lead them to the ending they went with. “I know the ending was somewhat controversial, with some people who didn’t like it,” the writer commented. “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.” Seriously? Undermine the story just so you and your star can have a happy Hollywood ending? Then again, it’s been done so often before I probably shouldn’t be surprised. Big letdown though.
I really enjoyed the movie, both before and after I read the manga, but there was very little about it that resembled the original story. In addition, the new ending was extremely confusing, spawning dozens of “The Ending Explained” posts on the internet, which shouldn’t be necessary if the filmmakers told a coherent story. They probably would have been much better served if they had just started with an original story and built their world from that rather than hacking the novel/manga to pieces for no reason other than to make Tom Cruise happy.
The Final Cut
So, how did the film version of “All You Need is Kill” fare as a manga adaptation overall? While certainly very visual and very watchable, it essentially gutted the original material to pave the way for Hollywood, and that’s just not good storytelling. A C- at best.
What do you think? Do you agree? Disagree? Please add your comments in the section below.
– Miriam Ruff, Content Creator, PoetsIN
DISCLAIMER: The opinions discussed in this blog post are solely those of the blogger and do not necessarily represent any thoughts, values, or opinions of PoetsIN and any of its affiliate groups.