Alita: Battle Angel is out. While not as hyped as it could be, it is being called visionary and is on top at the box office. Fine — but is it any good? Well, people going to see it aren’t wrong. But, is it some kind of awesomely underrated gem? Well, keep reading (light spoilers).
The Plot and Layered World
Christoph Waltz is Dyson Ido, a doctor in the Dickian Iron City who builds robots and repairs people and clients with cybernetic enhancements. One day he’s dumpster diving and discovers a deactivated cyborg girl (Rosa Salazar) on the scrap heap. Deciding to restore her to life, he names her Alita and raises her like a daughter. Amnesiac Alita is a curious little thing who figures out she can fight and soon realizes her past and true destiny.
That’s as succinct as the crux of the plot can be described without spoiling anything or dragging on too long because — whoa! — this is a loaded story. There are Ido and Alita. Then there is Alita’s past. Then there is her human boyfriend, Hugo (Keean Johnson), who’s up to no good. Then there is Iron City and the paradise floating in the sky, Zalem. Then there are our villains, Vector (Mahershala Ali) and Chiren (Jennifer Connelly), who are only would-be villains serving a higher power (yes, on Zalem) named Nova. Then there is this guild of assassin bounty hunters called “Hunter Warriors”; Ido moonlights as one (carrying a giant rocket war hammer) and Alita wants to be one. Then there is Grewishka (Jackie Earle Haley) who’s after Ido and Alita for his own reasons but also because he serves Vector and Nova.
Murder Roller Sports Ball
Finally, there’s this sport — which Alita also wants to participate in, much to Ido’s chagrin — “Motorball,” that is supposed to be important and the nexus for everything. However, it comes across as incidental and serves a purpose only when it needs to (in case the script had to be thicker). Motorball is like one of those things in Aquaman thrown in for good measure, and a little fan service, that could occupy its own movie or a back half they seemed to build up but back off in favor of the usual young-adult soap opera.
The two visionaries
Based on the Gunnm, or as you might’ve guessed Battle Angel Alita, manga by Yukito Kishiro, Alita brings together James Cameron and Robert Rodriguez for a collaboration years in the making. Alita was talked about as far back as 2003 and stalled until the overworked Cameron handed directing duties to Rodriguez and his studio in Austin (yes, Jeff Fahey has a cameo).
The screenplay was written by Cameron and Laeta Kalogridis (Altered Carbon, WB’s Birds of Prey), and is considered a faithful rendering of the manga, although it reeks of one of them being hired to finish or fine-tune the ideas of the other. So much is familiar about it you can accuse them of lifting from other cyberpunk films (Robocop, Terminator) and young-adult fiction (Hunger Games, Divergent, Maze Runner).
There Will Be Fluids
Brutality is stylized, not like Polar in its grossness, but it’s there nonetheless. Cyborgs fight it out on the streets, in bars, or get stripped for parts by gangs and there is dismemberment at every turn. But it’s acceptable dismemberment because it involves robots and fluids aside from blood, something Robert Rodriguez has been keen on since From Dusk Til Dawn. According to the MPAA, he learned, you can show as much blood spatter you want and not hurt your rating as long as it’s not red and looks chemical. Therefore, he can get away with more gore.
Alita: Battle Angel is not a perfect movie and it is out at the wrong time of year but it’s an enjoyable theatrical experience that might surprise you. If successful, we’re bound to get a sequel and, who knows? Maybe that live-action Akira remake will get off the ground finally. Or how about another Guyver movie? Is that too much to ask for?
- Rosa Salazar and her vibrant, versatile performance. Her star is on the rise for good reason.
- CG effects.
- Potential new franchise opening the door for other Manga adaptations in Hollywood.
- Way too much going on.
- Some wooden, comic-book dialogue.
- Keean Johnson's (Hugo) part as a catalyst falls pretty flat.