"Alita: Battle Angel" is a wholesome cyberpunk rendition to the “Gunnm” manga with special effects so mesmerizing that the script fails to keep up with them.
In the year 2563, cyborg scientist Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz) finds the dismembered core of a female cyborg with an intact human brain while scouting the junkyard of Iron City, a grounded city below the floating, wealthy and ethereally mysterious Zalem. Dr. Ido attaches the core to the body intended for his now deceased daughter and names the cyborg after her.
Cyborg Alita (Rosa Salazar) has no recollection of her past. She quickly befriends Hugo (Keean Johnson), who dreams about escaping to Zalem and who teaches her about the current world and introduces her to Motorball, a competitive race where cyborgs fight to the death in the hopes of becoming Motorball Champion.
Alita discovers that Dr. Ido is a Hunter Warrior employed by the factory to hunt down criminals in lieu of the no longer existing police. She saves Dr. Ido from Grewishka (Jack Earle Haley) instinctively using an ancient martial art known as “Panzer Kunst.” The factory is run by Vector (Mahershala Ali) with the assistance of Chiren (Jennifer Connelly). Vector is under the control of Zalem scientist Nova (Edward Norton), the architect behind everything that happens in Iron City.
When I read it was based on the “Gunnm” manga and that James Cameron co-wrote the script for the film, which is directed by Robert Rodriguez, it piqued my interest. Would this film be a major disaster like “Ghost In The Shell,” or could Hollywood actually do justice to the unique reality created in the intrinsic form of art? Surprisingly, I thought it was okay.
The special effects are striking. It was psychotropic at first to see the 3D characters like Alita combined with the real life characters like Ido. Although the film took Marvel-like superhero turns at times, Alita is a heroine you can’t help to root for. She’s naïve, very bizarre, which makes her relatable, but also deadly. She also seems to be the only one willing to risk everything to do what’s right versus what’s easy.
I appreciated the fact that Alita was allowed to develop as a character on screen rather than have her go from a young cyborg to a 300-year-old warrior. Allowing the character to slowly recover her memories is a more enjoyable watch than having her remember everything all-at-once like in “Ghost in the Shell.”
The backstory with Ido and Chiren was interesting. Both characters were ambiguous enough to keep the mystery of what was actually going on until the very end. I even felt sorry for Chiren’s eventual fate. However, I liked Ali as the villainous Vector the most. Ed Skrein makes an appearance as pretty boy cyborg and Hunter Warrior Zapan, and we all know from “Game of Thrones” and “Tau” that he plays an antagonistic warrior deliciously.
It was interesting to see how the film dramatized the love relationship between the human Hugoand cyborg Alita, but much of the film actually centers on the humanity of cyborgs and their equality to humans.
Somewhat stereotypical storyline aside, I thought the fight scenes were solid and well done. I’m curious to see if/when there’s a sequel, how the conflict with Alita and Nova unravels.