Transformation and Emily Blunt work together to make Edge of Tomorrow my favorite movie of the year.
With the luminous Emily Blunt playing the role of Rita Vrataski, the heroic “Angel of Verdun” (so called for her killing more than a hundred aliens at the Battle of Verdun), I was quite ready to be hooked. But I’m also a sucker for transformation, so when Bill Cage (Tom Cruise) changes, through time loops and Rita’s inspiring friendship, from a high-ranking but spineless army spokesman to a simple soldier intent at destroying the invading horde of aliens called Mimics, even if the only way to do so was to die, I was so hooked that I had to watch the movie again *and* buy the book on which the film was based: Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s 2004 light novel, All You Need is Kill.
Warning: Spoilers ahead.
The film and novel versions are both memorable. In the following aspects, I find the movie better than the novel:
- The protagonist’s transformation is more dramatic in the film version. The film begins with a Bill Cage who is the epitome of cowardice hiding behind charisma and military rank. It ends with a Cage who is on a suicide mission to destroy the “Omega” (i.e., the queen-brain of the alien horde). In the novel, Keiji Kiriya simply begins as a new recruit who, after 163 time loops, turns into a war veteran.
- The happy ending. Who doesn’t love a happy ending? In the film, Bill is killed by an “Alpha” (a boss) but manages to kill the Omega (the Big Boss). The result: a “bonus” time loop in which Rita and everyone else, including Bill, but excluding the Omega and her colony, is alive. A very happy ending. (Alas, Rita would die in the novel.)
- Better looking aliens. In the novel, an alien looks “like the bloated corpse of a drowned frog” (p. 18), which reminds me of when I had to dissect a toad in high school, blech. In the film, they look like the fearsome multi-tentacled metallic sentinels of The Matrix. (For this same reason, I predict that when Ender’s Game’s sequel, Speaker for the Dead, is eventually filmed, the Pequeninos or “piggies” (the only sentient alien species discovered since the xenocide of the Formics) would be made to look less piggy-like and more like, say, the Ewoks of Star Wars.)
- Great actors. Rita’s character in the novel is certainly memorable, but Rita’s being played by gorgeous and talented Emily Blunt, who just happens to be the 2009 BAFTA British Artist of the Year, is what makes me want to watch the movie again and again. Tom Cruise’s Cage isn’t bad at all; in fact it is a welcome respite from the flatness of the unkillable Ethan Hunt.
- When Cage gets a blood transfusion and loses his reset ability, he finally becomes “mortal “again. This is when the film soars.
But I find the novel better than the film in the following ways:
- Interesting characters. Rita Vrataski might be a war machine but she is utterly feminine. Like any good soldier, she is tough but neither emotionless nor emotional. She is beautiful, but to her what does that have to do with killing the alien horde? Alas, only Cage and Rita’s characters are given some depth in the film (and even then, their characters are not as well formed as, say, that of Jason Bourne in The Bourne Identity, also directed by Doug Liman). In the novel, several supporting characters also end up as memorable if not endearing: the nerdy Shasta Raylle, top MIT graduate, who developed Rita’s battle-axe; war veteran Ferrell Bartolomé, Keiji’s platoon leader, who inspires Keiji’s respect; and the well-endowed Rachel Kisaragi, who cooks for the Japanese soldiers of the United Defense Force (UDF).
- Background story. The novel explains where the alien Mimics came from, why they came to be called Mimics, and what exactly happens when the Mimic that the film calls the “Alpha” (but which the author simply suggests we think of as “the server of a network”) is killed: “the signal emitted by Mimics that had lost their server traveled back in time to warn them of the imminent danger they faced” (p. 168).
- Younger characters. Keiji is around 18 (he joins the UDF immediately upon finishing high school, and has done only six months of training when the novel begins), while Rita is a year or two older than Keiji (she joined the UDF when she was 16, soon after her parents were killed by Mimics). While I have no problems with older characters, younger characters – Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, Frodo in The Lord of the Rings, Hiccup in How to Train Your Dragon – are usually the ones who have the idealism, reckless boldness, and stamina to fight against oppressors, and guided by the wisdom of elder characters, the young ones do win.
- Though not clear in the film, it is quite clear in the novel that the tachyon particles emitted when a Mimic server dies are received back in time by all the Mimics in the network (as well as the human who kills a server while in electrical contact with it), so the entire Mimic network is able to plan ahead in the same way that the human who enters the time loop does. Therefore, whereas in the movie, the final battle occurs in the Omega’s lair, in the novel it occurs when the Mimics catch the humans, Keiji and Rita included, by surprise. The other implication of this is that the only way humanity could win in the novel was for Keiji (or Rita) to break out of the time loop. Therefore, Keiji and Rita had to fight each other to the death to break out of the loop, and only one of them could survive.
Kudos to Emily Blunt and the rest of the cast and crew of Edge of Tomorrow, to Hiroshi Sakurazaka, and to all the Rita Vrataskis out there!