Alita: Battle Angel is the latest blockbuster Cyberpunk movie to hit the theaters, and is based on a Manga of the same name, also called GUNNM, and was a project in the works from producer James Cameron (Titanic, Avatar) for over 10 years! He had to put the project on the backburner as he worked on many different films during that time, eventually handing off the directing duties to Robert Rodriguez (Sin City). After a long and laborious production involving a lot of cgi work and concept design, Alita was finally ready and its trailers started rolling out last February for a July release. However, its release date was pushed back to December, and then finally to February 14th in the US, with a later release slated for February 22nd for most of the Asian market.
Alita: Battle Angel follows the story of Alita, a cyborg with a human brain, who is found dismembered in a pile of rubbish by cyborg scientist Dr. Ido. Ido decides to give Alita a new robot body, and since she has no memories of who she is or what happened to her, Ido takes her in and gives her the name Alita after his own deceased daughter. Alita soon realizes that she has military instincts and training, and this leads her onto a path of discovery for who she is, as well as fighting the many injustices that she sees along the way. The story takes place in Iron City, a futuristic dystopian city filled with lawlessness and crime, which is located underneath the wealthy city of Zalem that floats above. Only the rich can live in Zalem, and most of the people who live below in Iron City dream to try to live up in the clouds one day too.
Because of the incredible visuals that James Cameron is known for (Avatar), and the cyberpunk elements of martial arts fighting (guns are outlawed in Iron City) and a wide array of cyborgs and cyber-enhancements, I was really looking forward to watching this movie. To prepare me for the movie and get acquainted with the material, I also watched the 1993 anime movie that was based off of the original manga, which I found to be excellent as well.
So after over a year of waiting, I was finally able to go see Alita: Battle Angel opening night last Wednesday, and wow, it definitely did not disappoint.
Sure enough, Alita’s visuals are stunning. I remember trying to soak in all the details in the first few frames as the viewer is introduced to Iron City in all its busy, gritty glory. Much to my surprise, the entire movie is surprisingly bright, especially compared to other cyberpunk films like Ghost in the Shell or The Matrix. This is because, at least at first, most of the film happens during the day since Ido warns Alita that she must be home by curfew because “the city is too dangerous at night”. As a result, the viewer is able to really take in all that is Iron City, which features a variety of people of all races and levels of cyber-enhancements, as well as a plethora of bright contrasting colors of storefronts and ads cobbled together in a style somewhat reminiscent to Blade Runner if it weren’t raining all the time and had clear bright skies.
A lot of people have complained, both from the trailers and from the movie itself, that Alita’s eyes are too big and distracting, creepy even. I personally did not feel this was true, and felt her eyes never distracted or detracted, especially considering the original manga had her with big eyes and that never bothered me either. Rosa Salazar does an excellent job here personifying Alita and working with the CGI rig to truly bring the character to life, and I’m glad she had James Cameron as producer on the project to make sure she had a good script to work with. Christoph Waltz also does an excellent job of playing Dr. Ido, with a very nice added nuance to his character instead of being a boring flat father figure. I was personally very excited to see Mahershala Ali play Vector, the crime boss of Iron City, especially because I’ve seen him do great work in Luke Cage and the visuals of his outfit and mirrorshades looked epic. Although he did a great job, especially personifying two people at times as an implant that allows communication from someone in Zalem occasionally takes over, I wish he had been given more time to do more with his character. Due to him alternating between the two characters, I felt his original character could have been more fleshed out.
The action is excellent, and not only does Alita have some impressive moves using martial arts fighting with her fights against a variety of cyborgs, but also the action in the Rollerball games, which is something that appeared in the manga but not in the adapted animated film. Rollerball feels like a combination of Mad Max and Speed Racer but using roller skates, it was very original and a lot of fun. And although Alita does seem overpowered in some scenes, in others one can see that she’s not only a good fighter, but a clever one, and that was really great to see as well.
There isn’t much I can think of to fault this movie. There is a very powerful scene near the end that connects with the audience emotionally, that was also featured in the film so I was prepared but also glad that they kept it in. The movie’s ending also felt like it could be enough to wrap up the movie, or serve as a proper lead to future sequels, which is why I’m hoping the movie will be successful enough to allow the sequels to happen. Since this movie was one of the last, if not the last, film produced by 20th Century Fox before they complete the process of being acquired by Disney, it remains to be seen how Disney decides to work with their newly acquired material. Although some have been worried about Disney potentially quashing creative freedoms, I feel that Disney’s done a good enough job with Marvel and Star Wars to deserve my trust.
The soundtrack also worked very well with this movie, and although this movie doesn’t wax very philosophical, there are a lot of powerful themes this movie touches on (such as issues of weath inequality, identity, corruption and morality), it does a solid job presenting them along with its excellent world-building and character development, which is no easy feat.
As a result, I give this movie a 9.5/10. It is definitely worth seeing, and for hardcore cyberpunk fans, I suspect this may be the beginning of a new trilogy that along with Netflix’s Altered Carbon may continue setting the standard for modern-day cyberpunk to come.