Major William Cage, played by Tom Cruise, has never seen a day of combat.
A former ad executive and now the PR man of the United Defense Force, he’s had great success selling recruitment for the cause against the alien invaders called Mimics, in a near future where the world-conquering race has hit the Earth in an unrelenting assault, unbeatable by any military unit.
Through some bureaucratic snafu, Cage ends up on the front lines, accused of desertion, and unceremoniously dropped into what’s basically a suicide mission. The poor guy is killed within minutes, but he finds himself mysteriously alive the next day, reliving the brutal experience of the assault on the Mimic camp and dying once again.
He’s in sci-fi groundhog day and now Cage must find a way out of the infinite jest. Based on the original Japanese light novel “All You Need is Kill” by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, director Doug Liman’s adaptation carries over many of the sci-fi concepts that pin down the narrative of the Jap novel and manga, although seeing Mr Cruise getting killed over and over has its own kind of reward, and remakes them with Hollywood gloss and SFX sheen.
Here are some of the more interesting ideas in the story, keeping it sans spoilers as much as we can.
After various losses to the Mimic Horde, humanity finally wises up and achieves a modicum of success in the war with the creation of combat "jackets." These jackets are basically powered exoskeletons providing both armor and weapons that enhances the wearer’s strength and mobility. The system of motors or hydraulics delivers at least part of the energy for limb movement, and in the movie the jackets are also equipped with telescoping rocket clusters that rotate 180 degrees and track targets.
In conceiving and executing the jackets the soldiers would wear in battle, director Doug Liman was very specific with production designer Oliver Scholl and costume designer Kate Hawley: any creative leap of armor technology had to appear obtainable in the near future, similar to what defense programs around the world are exploring today.
Liman also wanted the suit to expose the human form so the characters could be seen in them, not covered up by them. And, because the cast would need to run, fight, jump and crawl in them, it needed to be designed as a moveable, articulated piece of sophisticated puppetry, operated solely by the actor wearing it. The suit would look real because it was.
The design team developed various ExoSuit concepts, working in tandem with head ExoSuit builder Pierre Bohanna to ensure form and function: initial 2D and 3D concept art led to an aluminum prototype frame with variable hinges and pivot points to determine what the rules of the suit were. Hawley then collaborated with the team on the aesthetic details and proportions of the suits, the color palettes and surface treatments. Careful integration was needed between the costume and art departments and props to provide unity, practicality and continuity between the ExoSuits and the weaponry.
"Well, what if there is no tomorrow? There wasn't one today!" wailed Bill Murray as Phil Connors in “Groundhog Day.”
Cage has the same complaint. But with each battle fought on the same day, Cage eventually gets better and becomes able to engage the enemy with increasing skill alongside Special Forces soldier Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt).
The temporal stasis or repeating time loop is involuntarily caused by the powers of the Mimics and here, as in any other story with the repeating concept, the character caught in the time loop is doomed to repeat it over and over until something is corrected. Until Maj Cage finds out about the nature of his dilemma, gets down to the business of what's causing the loop, and finds out how to stop it, often using the information learned in all the previous iterations to make sure this one last loop goes perfectly.
The physics of the possibility is even more complex and convoluted than you can imagine.
There’s a certain delight in seeing Cruise explode, filleted by shrapnel, riddled with bullets, or just stomped on, but I never actually felt that he was motivated by anything else in this movie except survival. That said, I like sci-fi movies that are infused with humor, and though the humanity of these characters are often bypassed by hardcore science ideas on display, it pays that the movie never forgets the funny side of it all.
Cage’s strange ability to turn back the clock only begins to make sense to him when he is able to partner with the one person who understands what he’s going through: Sgt. Rita Vrataski.
“Cage and Rita lead the charge together in this story,” Cruise said. “It’s a total partnership; they may start out as unlikely allies, but they both discover they won’t survive without each other.”
It’s apt that, with teamwork, both Rita and Will may yet find a way to save humanity from the annihilation that is already certain in their future.
COME FIND ME
The original Japanese sci-fi military tale by Hiroshi Sakurazaka (illustrated by Yoshitoshi Abe). Unlike Cage, Keiji Kiriya is a new recruit in the United Defense Force. Keiji is also killed on his first battle and wakes up in the time loop. Keiji's realization and growing skills as a soldier takes longer and is more detailed, but he does pass through each time loop by giving it his all, in a desperate attempt to change his fate.
Producer Erwin Stoff was given the book by producer Tom Lassally, and immediately saw its potential as a film. “I knew it would make a fantastic large-scale feature,” Stoff recalls. “It’s exactly the kind of movie I love to make—big, exhilarating action with a really interesting narrative structure. I really liked the notion of someone being caught up in a war where the stakes are the very survival of humanity, and the character has to develop both the physical and emotional skill sets in order to make a difference.”
The aliens are nicknamed "Mimics" for their ability to mimic and respond to Earth military combat strategies with efficiency, thus making them nearly unbeatable.
The SFX design team decided that the alien Mimics would have multiple tendrils that would come loose from their body during battle, like a javelin. The filmmakers began their research and development for the Mimics, doing movement and animation studies from various animals. They also had to determine how the Mimics and their human opponents would interact in combat.
“All of the varied types of Mimics have different personality traits,” SFX director Davis said. “Some are four-legged with tentacles that sort of spray off of them. Others move with incredible speed and dexterity. But they are all out to kill—an enemy whose speed and brutality are unmatched.”
The battle victories of Special Forces soldier Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt doing various combat yoga poses) at Verdun, France eventually become a symbol and rallying image for the war effort: an angel of death with her combat jacket and metal sword held up high.
For her heroics the media has crowned Rita the Angel of Verdun, while the troops call her simple the Full Metal Bitch. The story’s conceit of replaying the day posed one of the more unusual tasks Blunt faced in portraying Rita who, each new day, doesn’t remember Cage or anything that happened; he has to start over with her every time he starts the day again.
“I was really excited to play someone as tough, badass and physically dangerous as Rita,” said Blunt. “But when I read the script, mixed in with this very cool story and intense action sequences I also found a lot of laughs, as well as incredible determination and perserverance of the human spirit.”
With sci-fi and action-oriented roles in “Looper” and “The Adjustment Bureau” Blunt already had some of this sciency movie stuff under her belt but the physical demands of this film still had her reeling.
“You can train all you want, run a million miles, and I don’t think anything quite prepares you. You just have to get used to it,” she exclaimed. “And it’s hard. Rita’s fight style is very aerial-based—lots of sliding under alien tentacles, jumping, flipping over them, slicing as she’s in the air. We wanted it to look intense, but yet there was a kind of beauty to it. Trying to capture the choreography and the sheer skill with which she fights was a tremendous challenge.”
The granddaddy and hive mind of the Mimic Horde is a tad bit hard to explain in the context of the story and how the time loop gets all tangled up without spoiling it for you, so we’ll let director Doug Liman take this one on:
“Well, first of all, this is not a film with two concepts, where there’s an alien invasion and there’s Tom Cruise, who keeps repeating the same day every time he dies. It’s a film of one concept, which is that the aliens are beating us, and the reason they’re beating us is because they can repeat the day and they keep redoing a battle until they win. There’s no way humanity can beat an adversary like that, until Tom Cruise gets infected with their power and suddenly we have a chance.
Live. Die. Repeat. Tom Cruise’s Maj Cage is not just a reluctant hero, he’s a coward that’s as yellow as they come. The idea that humanity’s hope is set on the shoulders of such a despicable thing is at first revolting and then, as he slowly finds in himself some of the courage that’s imparted by Rita and other soldiers, he begins to take hold of his fate and make the hard, uncompromising decisions that are required for Earth to go on.
“He’s in the military, but he’s not really a military guy,” says Cruise. “He’s the talking heads’ face of the war and he’s not the least bit heroic. And now he has to live through this bloody battle over and over.“
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