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‘Alita: Battle Angel’ (review)

Produced by James Cameron, Jon Landau
Screenplay by James Cameron, Laeta Kalogridis
Based on Gunnm by Yukito Kishiro
Directed by Robert Rodriguez
Starring Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz,
Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali,
Ed Skrein, Jackie Earle Haley, Keean Johnson

 

Alita: Battle Angel is the long awaited live action film adaptation of the Japanese manga, Battle Angel Alita, by acclaimed creator Yukito Kirishiro that originally ran for 9 volumes in the early to mid 90’s. The film is the brainchild of James Cameron (Avatar, Titanic, Terminator), who has been actively developing this property since 1997.

His own prior commitments, however, as well as his need for the special effects technology to catch up with his vision of how to realize Kirishiro’s cyberpunk story has always stopped him.

The project has finally been realized, with director Robert Rodriguez executing and with Cameron and longtime partner Jon Landau producing. Not only did Rodriguez bring Alita’s world to life, he did so with aplomb.

Set in the 26th century after “The Fall”, a world decimating war with Mars, Doctor Ido, a specialist in cybernetic replacement finds the discarded head and torso of a young girl cyborg in a huge junk pile from the enormous floating city, Zalem. He repairs her and then helps her discover who she is. A discovery she and the Doctor may or may not be ready to find out; that she is, in fact, a weapon of war.

The original script by Cameron and Laeta Kalgridis, is based on the first 4 volumes of the 9 volume manga, as well as the Battle Angel Original Video Animation. This story is directly in Cameron’s wheelhouse. I found that this film wasn’t just visually stunning and action-packed, this film also has heart. Alita’s story is journey of self discovery. A journey that she ultimately has to make alone. Sure, she has people along the way to help and guide her, but in the end she must do this for herself.

Alita, from the original manga, is a very strong female character with a fascinating story arc. Cameron adds his signature flair to parts of the story as well, of course. Some of it works and some of it doesn’t. For the most part though it is a pretty faithful adaptation of the manga and I probably couldn’t ask for a better version. The male supporting character and love interest, Hugo, is punched up a bit and I still can’t decide if that is necessary in the grand scheme of things.  In my opinion, it drags down the film a bit.

The emotional core of the film, though, is the father/daughter relationship with Dr. Dyson Ido and Alita. Ido is brilliantly played by two time Oscar winner Christoph Waltz and his portrayal is exactly how I pictured it from the manga. The emotional and physical transformation of Alita from sweet innocent young woman to bad ass killing machine is amazing and Rosa Salazar’s performance under all that digital effects is still wonderful.

The addition of a character from the animation to the story in the form of Chiren, played by Oscar winner Jennifer Connolly, to add to the dynamic already in place with Ido and Alita, at time feels misplaced, but I understand why Cameron added her here.

Thankfully more works than doesn’t. Director Rodriguez has once again created a visually stunning film matching his efforts in Sin City and Planet Terror.  This time, however ,he is using way more practical sets and relying way less on green screen. Sure, they are utilized, but not even a fraction as much as he has in the past and I think it really makes a difference. Actors are actually interacting with each other and the set itself makes a huge difference.

Given the rich world already established as well as a plethora of characters to choose from, Cameron simply had to just pick and choose what story he would tell and let the course material do it’s job. Bringing Kirishiro’s work to life was a combined effort of live action, CGI and effects that are seamlessly blended. The slightly uncanny valley look of Alita is soon forgotten as the performance by Salazar shines through and Alita’s “look” makes total sense in the context of the story.

The massive floating City of Zalem is awe inspiring, and the kinetic and dangerous roller derby style game Motor Ball is right out of the film Speed Racer all would be for naught without the heart. Thankfully, the film ultimately succeeds in the hands of Rodriguez.

At times Alita: Battle Angel plays out like a 90’s action film but with better effects.  At times it feels like a cyberpunk’s wet dream, but overall, for the most part, the film works and is very enjoyable. I have always been a fan of the manga and the anime. I was really looking forward to this film. I plan on watching this a few more times.

Visually I am in love with the world and the action sequences. Emotionally I fell in love with Alita all over again. Seeing her on the big screen and portrayed perfectly by Rosa Salazar was a treat and enough for me to forgive the few problems I had overall with the movie.

Obviously this film sets up for more future films. I hope it does well enough to see them made as well.

 

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