Alita: Battle Angel Review
Alita is that rarest of movies; a western adaptation of a Japanese manga/anime classic. I can count all of those that I know of on one hand: Speed Racer. Ghost in the Shell. Edge of Tomorrow. Dragonball Evolution. All these movies have made the leap from art to film, east to west. Most of them have been abysmal failures. Does Alita then fare any better?
The short answer is yes for the moment, although that’s a low bar to set. Alita: Battle Angel is lavishly produced, with stunning CGI, environments, and fight scenes. However, the acting is poor, the script dreadful, and the editing and pacing far too uneven. The movie clocks in at a too-long 122 minutes, and one can definitely feel it by the ending that sets up for a sequel that will most likely never come.
The film was written by James Cameron and Laeta Kalogridis, and was directed by Robert Rodriguez. Naturally, the bulk of the attention was placed on Cameron’s involvement. But the movie doesn’t quite live up to its billing. Although an enjoyable movie in its own right, this is a FAR cry from the likes of Terminator and Aliens, or even Titanic and Avatar.
It’s not all bad news though. The film does a great job at depicting its dystopic Iron City, which is a post-apocalyptic environment reminiscent of the shitholes in other media such as Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell, (Battle Angel Alita, the manga the film was based on, was first serialized in 1990). The city is suitably grimy; its inhabitants equally downtrodden and demoralized. Human augmentation with robotic parts is widespread, either for work or for defense. Crime is apparently everywhere- the movie takes place in a murder spree where women are being offed by a serial killer (a plot point from the original manga that is never expanded upon.) The only respite is Motorball, a bloodbath of a sport where cyborg competitors race to carry the titular ball through the finish line or be the one one able to do so at the end of the race. Life then, is shall we say, fucking shit. Hovering above this trash heap though, is the flying city of Zalem; a veritable paradise compared to the literal dumpster below. Winning the title of Grand Champion of Motorball grants you a ticket to this utopia, and it is this promise of a better life that drives the plot along (well, some of it anyway.)
It is at the dumpster that is Iron City where we meet our main character, the amnesiac cyborg Alita. Having literally being dumped from Zalem, she is found and adopted by doctor Dyson Ido. We then follow Alita’s journey as she tries to remember her past and confront the challenges she faces along the way. Along the way she meets love interests, learns more about the figure that took her in, plays some Motorball, and goes up against a whole bunch of bad guys; all of which are after her because she is special.
If you have read the manga, the story beats are familiar, although the transition isn’t perfect of course. Like any adaptation subtle details are lost, scenes are cut, combined, and consolidated to accommodate the different mediums and cultures. It is remarkably faithful to the original; more than the hideous Dragonball Evolution, but not exactly a shot-for-shot remake like Ghost in the Shell. Even with all the changes however, the pacing is still clunky, and loads and loads of characters mean that you’ll wonder why characters exist in the movie to begin with. A couple of the film’s villains really serve very little purpose and could easily be combined together or dropped on the cutting floor.
The script is laughable, to say the least. Lines are delivered poorly and with little emotion, and some of them are just… UGH.
Here’s some Oscar worthy examples:
I do not standby in the presence of evil!
I think you are someone very special.
You are the most human person I have ever met.
END OF QUOTES
There is a painfully bad romance subplot, although it does give us one of the best moments in the movie (in my opinion), where Alita takes out her robot heart (read: power generator) and offers it up to her love interest with the words “I’d do whatever I had to for you. I’d give you whatever I have. I’d give you my heart. ” It isn’t the emotion in the voice or the lines that make it work; it’s the suitably crazed look of a teenager experiencing REAL infatuation for the first time in their life that sells the scene. Unfortunately these moments are few and far between and you find yourself groaning more often than not when the two are doing lovey-dovey things when it’s so painfully obvious that there’s very little chemistry between them.
Sports is another subplot that really should have been reworked or cut out. Motorball was a central part of the original manga, but it got its own arc; it got the time and space it needed to stand on its own. Here Motorball is given a couple of scenes where Alita plays for the first tie then she suddenly becomes a star player and is capable of crushing opponents without buildup. Yes it serves as a main reason to drive the plot; it doesn’t justify itself enough to include it in a already bloated movie.
The fight scenes are top notch. A CGI laden fest but what the hell, I’m a sucker for those. There’s nothing really to say; if you’ve seen any western movie with CGI fight scenes in the past 5 years you know exactly what to expect. The initial reveal in the trailer where Alita moves impossibly fast is unfortunately never replicated in any other scene. Slow motion abounds. Impossible jumps. Fancy kicks. All crowd pleasing stuff, but hardly likely to blow anyone away.
As for the eyes- you get used to them quick. At least, I did. I watched A LOT of anime. If you’re reading this, chances are you do too. It’s a big step up from all those amateur CGI fan mockups of anime characters or video game characters. Alita is a cyborg after all, and an anime one at that; abnormally huge eyes and a twig like body are par for the course.
So should you see the movie? If you can for cheap (less than $10) I’d say go for it. It’s a fun movie, too long, but I had a good time. I do tend to enjoy movies that I choose to see in theaters though, at least for the first viewing. If you can stomach the awful dialogue and cringe inducing performances, what you get is a competently executed adaptation of a manga classic with great CGI.
CAN’T STOP WON’T STOP JPHIP
WRITTEN BY silogore