Alita: Battle Angel — A Solid Anime Adaptation
James Cameron and Robert Rodriguez join forces to bring the 1990s Japanese manga series Gunnm (also known as Battle Angel Alita) by Yukito Kishiro to the big screen. With Rodriguez’ energetic direction, Cameron’s big budget and effects, and a strong female lead, Alita: Battle Angel's empowering adventure proves to be a multitude of things: a solid anime adaptation, the best Rodriguez film since Sin City, and a pretty darn fun early blockbuster experience.
A deactivated female cyborg, Alita (Rosa Salazar), is revived by Ido (Christoph Waltz), a compassionate doctor, but cannot remember anything of her past life. On a quest to find out who she is, she discovers a clue to her past — she has unique fighting abilities that those in power will stop at nothing to control. If she can stay out of their grasp, she could be the key to saving her friends, her family and the world she's grown to love.
The only thing I was really expecting with Alita is for it to have some big action set pieces and dazzling effects, and it’s able to stand and deliver on that front; however, it never really captured my full attention. For turn-your-brain-off entertainment, it fares pretty well (it’s no Ready Player One though), but there’s very little narratively or visually to truly sink your teeth in.
The curious thing about Alita is that it’s basically the Baskin Robins of sci-fi blockbusters, in that there’s 31 flavors of films you’ve likely already seen before crammed into its story and aesthetic. You’ll see shades of things like RoboCop, Blade Runner, Rollerball, Elysium, The Running Man, Idiocracy, Children of Men, and Star Wars sprinkled throughout. Of course, all of these things are also in the manga series, but cinematically speaking, it sucks the wind out of the film’s sails quite a bit because we’re not seeing much of anything new or groundbreaking. Although, as far as anime adaptations go, Alita is near the top, or at the top of the list.
The effects are cris, and bend in very naturally with the actions and the environment. Alita’s big eyes were never a distraction and even its disproportion finds naturalistic footing amongst her features. I really admired how the special effects and animation allowed for a wide range of realistic emotion to be visible, but very little of it can be truly felt. Despite the fact that I was never emotionally bound to the film, I was always on board with Alita’s journey because she’s a very likable and empowering protagonist that the audience can really rally behind.
The father/daughter element is by far the film’s best aspect, and it keeps it grounded and real. Christoph Waltz and Rosa Salazar share palpable chemistry, but the downside to their dynamic is that it’s also nothing groundbreaking or terribly compelling. The weakest relationship in the film’s story is between Alita and her friend/love interest, Hugo (played by Keean Johnson). It felt overly sentimental and artificial. Johnson’s performance also felt pretty weak, like bad TV acting (think WB shows pointed at tweens). Jennifer Connelly was pretty electric though as Waltz’ ex-wife, Chiren, but her character arc felt forced.
The film suffers from trying to do a bit too much. Some segments felt bloated with unnecessary elements, causing its reasonable 2-hour runtime to feel much longer than it actually was. There also wasn’t any mystery to Alita’s identity crisis because it’s spoiled in the title, which factors into the emotional detachment. Everything comes to a grinding halt though when the film enters its third act, which is laughably dumb and anti-climatic. Basically as soon as the adrenaline fueled bout of Murder Ball (a game similar in design and stakes as seen in Rollerball) concludes, everything deflates. And then, it set itself up for a sequel…
Recommendation: If you’re a fan of anime, sci-fi cyberpunk cinema, and kickass female heroes, this is for you.
Rating: 3 cyborg hearts outta 5.
What do you think? Were you blown away by Alita? We want to know. Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and as always, remember to viddy well!