Review – ‘Alita: Battle Angel’ is big-eyed and ambitious

Alita: Battle Angel

There will be two audiences for the new live-action film, Alita: Battle Angel: Those who are familiar with Yukito Kishiro’s manga series, Gunnm, and its vast universe of characters and mythology; and those who don’t know a thing about it. I fall into the latter category.

Full disclosure: I am not only ignorant of the Alita stories and their intricate mythos; I’m also not a fan of Japanese anime and manga in general. If that’s your thing, good for you; but give me American comics and art anytime – except for the wacky wannabe manga stuff.

I make these points to say that, despite my misgivings, I still really enjoyed this movie. Producer James Cameron (Avatar) and director Robert Rodriguez (Sin City) have delivered a really big and ambitious film with a big-eyed, little hero that you can’t help but love. (And here I thought that no one would ever replace Puss in Boots in my heart!)

Alita: Battle AngelI’m not going to pretend to understand all of the plot points in this massively huge movie, but it takes place in the 26th century after an apocalyptic event that has the poorer people living in a scrap-heap below a tethered spacecraft of some kind; a ship that continuously dumps its garbage on the city below it.

That garbage pile is where Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz) finds the damaged remains of a cyborg he christens, Alita (performance capture by Rosa Salazar). He nurses the loveable, little robot back to life and she slowly regains her memories – memories that are more battle-oriented than angelic.

The story is rather standard fare for genre fans, but the world it is set in is amazing and perfectly rendered. The weakest parts are at the beginning, with young-adult angst that wears thin quickly and is written weaker than the sappiest episode of TV’s Supergirl. The romance between Alita and her boyfriend, Hugo (Keean Johnson), will likely only play well with the youngest girls in the audience.

But once the “coming of age” story hits its full stride, this becomes one of the most fascinating action flicks to come along in some time. The CG effects are incredible and the fight sequences are first rate. And there are a lot of fight sequences.

The best thing Alita has going for it though are not-so-subtle cheesy moments… the best of which I can’t even get into without giving away the most rewarding aspects of the movie. Let’s just say there are a handful of moments that are worth the price of admission. Also “worth the price” is the film’s 3D effects; and I don’t normally recommend paying those extra bucks.

Alita: Battle Angel also stars Mahershala Ali and Jennifer Connelly as cyborg scientists responsible for creating creatures that will compete is a futuristic roller-derby type game called Motorball; and Jackie Earle Haley, performance captured as a big and bad cyborg called Grewishka.

Despite a slow start and its young adult set-up, this is a mostly amazing film with some genuinely touching moments and more eye-candy than you can eat in one sitting. I’m curious whether the manga fans will enjoy this film as much as I did. Grade: 8/10

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About the author

Bob Leeper

Bob Leeper is the co-owner and manager of "Arizona’s Pop Culture and Alternative Art Network," Evermore Nevermore. He is the co-creator of the pop culture events Steampunk Street and ENCREDICON, and is a member of the Phoenix Film Critics Society. He also curates the Facebook fan site The Arizona Cave – AZ Fans of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and is one of the few brave and bold fans of Jar Jar Binks.