Movie Review: Alita: Battle Angel
Alita: Battle Angel has been stirring the hearts of manga and animation geeks since 1990. Titled Battle Angel Alita (or Gunnm in Japanese), the original manga series set in a post-apocalyptic world found its heroine in a broken cyborg girl. The charm and popularity of both the manga series and its anime adaptation in 1993 also captured the heart of James Cameron, who we all know as the man behind movies like Titanic and Avatar.
In 2013, Cameron officially announced that he is doing a CGI-doused live action film based on the popular Japanese tale. Considering what he has done for Avatar (which was practically a miracle), fans couldn’t be more excited and ecstatic, to say the least. But due to the popularity of Avatar, James Cameron had his hands full working on up to four sequels to the alien planet saga.
Enter Robert Rodriguez to the rescue. The self-confessed Alita fanboy, better known as the director of action films such as Sin City and Desperado, received the directing torch from Cameron. Joining Cameron in the production chair is Jon Landau, who was his producer for both Titanic and Avatar. And so began the three-year wait for Alita: Battle Angel.
Given its credentials, material- and maker-wise, Alita: Battle Angel could either be a hit or miss depending on how high you set the bar for a cyberpunk CGI-live action film.
I walked into the advanced screening sponsored by AOC not knowing a single thing about the film, except from what I’ve seen in the trailers and read in the news. I knew it was banking a lot on the CGI prowess of both Cameron and Rodriguez, but I didn’t realize how true to word that hype was until I saw it in 3D IMAX. Yes, this movie is best seen on a 3D IMAX screen, although I’m guessing 2D IMAX would also suffice. There is simply joy that sparks out of seeing every inch of Alita’s cyborg body in detail, and it makes all the action more enthralling, too.
Unlike other action films I’ve seen in 3D, I noticed the fast-paced movements in Alita: Battle Angel are more smoothly done. This is a testament to how Cameron likes his animation meticulously crafted. It gives a better sense of Alita’s abilities–that she is stronger, faster, and more powerful than any other cyborg fighter in Iron City.
Speaking of Iron City, here is where most of the cyberpunk aspect of the film comes from. Compared to other post-apocalyptic imaginations, such as in The Maze Runner or the Divergent series, I liked the 1920s industrial steampunk vibe in Battle Angel. It gave me the impression of a progressive culture before it fell into doom. Lacking a clearer depiction of what truly happened before the events of the film, the setting silently screams of past and ongoing struggles of the people.
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
A story for teens?
The premise of Alita: Battle Angel is pretty much vanilla. It’s almost the same as we’ve seen in the stories of Tris in Divergent or even Thomas in Maze Runner. “A disembodied cyborg who wakes up in a post-apocalyptic world with no memory of who she was discovers her extraordinary past,” practically sums it up. But the journey toward the discovery is what makes the whole story engaging and endearing.
It’s a hodgepodge of many things: family drama, romance, self-discovery, power struggle, and action. But Alita: Battle Angel shines in both its littlest and biggest moments. My personal favorite is the father-daughter dynamic between Alita (played by actress Rosa Salazar) and Dr. Dyson Ido (Academy Award winner Christoph Waltz). I found it to be a stronger story line than Alita’s love story with Hugo (Keean Johnson), which made me cringe at some point. Even though their romance offered a foothold for Alita to further develop her character, it somehow got lost and wasted by the time the movie ended.
The Motorball Sport scenes became a bit confusing for me as well. Though they are truly exhilarating and wonderful to watch on their own, they somehow felt out of place in the greater cause to defeat the evil Nova. But I guess that was resolved when it was revealed in the end that the only way to get to Zalem (a.k.a. the promised land where Nova lives) is to win at Motorball.
Hope for Alita
Honestly, I feel like Alita: Battle Angel is more of an expanded trailer rather than a standalone movie. If the cliffhanger ending doesn’t give that away, it’s easy to sense that the producers are expecting this to become a major film franchise.
However, we have yet to hear news on whether there will be a follow up. Instead of leaving it hanging, I wish Rodriguez gave it a more definitive ending with a setup for a sequel. Then again, this risky move could be part of Cameron’s master plan. Remember that Avatar also ended with even more questions than when it began, and look where it ended up. It has racked up awards left and right, and it’s now gearing up for four sequels.
Still, I couldn’t say that the same massive clamor (or even box office success?) would come for Alita: Battle Angel. It needs to establish a strong connection with a massive fan base to win over the competition. (Among them, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and even TV shows like Game of Thrones giving epic production values.)
Hopefully the younger crowd would appreciate the movie for what it is. It is, after all, an enjoyable movie overall. I could compare watching it with feeling like a kid in the ’90s again. It gave me the same feeling I did when I first saw Ghost Fighter or Dragon Ball Z. Only this time in 3D and better graphics.