'Alita: Battle Angel' movie review

Robert Rodriguez and James Cameron's attempt to bring the classic manga to the big screen is beautiful and flawed like its characters

Hollywood's track record of adapting manga is, putting it mildly, incredibly bad. Be it 'Dragon Ball', or 'Death Note' or even Masamune Shirow's timeless classic 'Ghost in the Shell', not one of the three have been anything to write home about. They all have their own failings in being either pretentious, badly produced or badly written.

But finally, with Rodriguez and Cameron's collaboration, there is 'Alita: Battle Angel', a film without pretence or bad writing or bad production, which has been over 20 years and over half a dozen release dates in the making.

The story is incredibly simple: Dyson Ido, a doctor specialising in cyborgs finds an inactive-but-alive Alita in a scrapyard. At this time, over 300 years have passed since a cataclysmic war called 'The Fall' between Earth and Mars.

Ido revives an amnesiac Alita in a new body, and she immediately is overtaken by a desire to explore everything that this shattered world has to offer. Along the way, she makes friends, enemies and tries to figure out who she really is.

Japan's contribution to the cyberpunk genre is fascinating. Between 'Akira', 'Battle Angel Alita' and 'Ghost in the Shell', the 1980s Japan has given the world some incredibly potent literature, art and cinema.

'Alita: Battle Angel' is just a child of that old-age cyberpunk given a modern, CGI skin. It has all the elements you'd expect to see in a cyberpunk tale: a dystopian world that has at least one major converging point for its denizens - here, it is a form of blood sport played by cyborgs; a multilayered conspiracy where you are drip-fed the motivations of all involved parties and a character who has a personal connection to both the protagonists and antagonists.

The characters in 'Alita: Battle Angel' are well-layered and have enough depth between them all to be distinct people and not just plot devices to push Alita to her goal. The highlights of the characterisation are Christoph Waltz's Dyson Ido and Jennifer Connelly's Chiren. Both go through their own personal crucibles, which pits them against each other even without their own knowledge: Ido desires to keep Alita safe and Chiren wants Altia dead so she can return to where she came from.

Rosa Salazar shines in the body of Alita as she goes from a solemn cyborg with no idea of her own past to a little child for whom the entire world is a sandbox and into a warrior who seeks to defend what she holds dear from anyone who would dare to tear it from her.

The action is fluidly choreographed and employs what is likely to be the best use of motion capture 2019 has to offer. In less than the first 30 minutes, the film blows away any apprehensions you may have about the quality of the action given the combat largely relies on martial arts.

The CGI is also top-notch and doesn't leave much in the way of things that you would seek to see improved in the home media release. The world, its denizens and the action are crafted with immense care.

The soundtrack is pretty good but it's nothing memorable and sometimes comes in the way of the storytelling, throwing off the film's pace. It's never too jarring but you will probably end up questioning some editing choices made around the middle of the film. Another negative aspect is how the film heavily underuses Mahershala Ali and leaves Edward Norton's villain woefully underdeveloped.

Overall, 'Alita: Battle Angel' is a massive improvement over anything Hollywood has tackled before in adapting manga into the big screen. It's never pretentious about what it's about, keeps its characters grounded and flawed enough to be believable and the action is solid.


'Alita: Battle Angel'

Directed by: Robert Rodriguez

Starring: Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Mahershala Ali, Jennifer Connely

Score: 3.5/5
 

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'Alita: Battle Angel' movie review

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