After being stuck in development hell for over a decade and having its release date delayed twice, The Cyberpunk Epic Alita Battle Angel has finally hit theatres. Based on the beloved Manga “ Battle Angel Alita” (or Gunnm as it’s known in Japan) the film introduces us to a deactivated female Cyborg known as Alita, who gets revived but has no memory of who she was. What follows may seem like a standard “self-discovery” narrative at first glance, but the execution, unique world and engaging protagonist help elevate the film into becoming something special.
While producer James Cameron (Titanic, Avatar) had wanted to direct a film adaptation of the Manga himself, he eventually passed the project over to director Robert Rodriguez (well known for directing the Sin City and Spy Kids films). The result of coupling the childlike imagination of Robert’s sensibilities with a big budget is just as bonkers and immersive as I hoped, with the world that Alita and her co-stars reside in (Iron City) feeling like a lived-in and richly detailed locale. The film is drenched in special effects and CGI, but it all has personality thanks to the incredible art direction and intriguing world building. This also works in the action’s favour. You won’t find any stupid shaky-cam or frustratingly hard-to-see fight scenes here. It’s all shown in full clarity and has a real sense of energy and excitement. There’s no doubt in my mind that this will be one of the most visually fulfilling films audiences will see this year.
Amazingly, Alita Battle Angel doesn’t allow the humanity of its characters (Cyborg or not) to become lost amidst the outrageous spectacle. Instead, the visual effects help flesh out the world and characters. Alita herself is an incredibly well-realized protagonist. Thanks to Weta’s astonishing digital effects coupled with Rosa Salazar’s wonderful performance, it’s clear that much care and love has been placed into crafting the character. I was quickly endeared by her curiosity as she explored the world around her and developed relationships, and when the time comes for her to become locked in combat with an apposing cyborg or participate in a game of Moterball, she becomes an inventive, charming and badass heroine. Dr. Dyson Ido, the scientist who finds and revives Alita, is also an intriguing character with a mysterious edge and heartwarming connection with the titular character, and even the love interest, Hugo, is given a more interesting story than you might expect, though I do feel that the Manga told his story better.
What I feel is really going to make or break the film for audiences (as long as they enjoy the visual style and don’t find it off-putting) is the screenplay. Some of the dialogue is straight-up corny, and it’s clear that the film is setting up for (hopefully) future stories, which may cause some to feel a little unsatisfied by the end of the film. I’m personally not bothered by corny dialogue as long as it feels earnest, and Alita Battle Angel has a refreshing sense of sincerity and heart rather than the typical self-deprecating and jokey vibe that I get from a lot of other big blockbusters these days. (this is also something that I appreciated about 2018’s Aquaman, which has a very similar tone and embraces its over the top nature) At it’s worst, the dialogue just feels like something you would hear in a cheesy Anime dub from the 90s, and is that really such a bad thing? Maybe for some it is, but that almost added to the charm of the entire film for me. As for the set-up for future sequels, I did find that Alita had a satisfying arc by the end of this film, which allows it to stand on its own fairly well as far as I’m concerned, despite the sequel set-up. I mentioned above, It will be different for everyone, but it was just the right amount of over-the-top insanity and sincere emotion for me.
Alita Battle Angel is one of those few blockbusters that feels larger than life and yet surprisingly intimate. You’ll get the spectacle for sure, with exhilarating set-pieces that just about blow every other film out of the water, but Alita herself is what makes this movie really shine. She’s one of the most entertaining protagonists I’ve seen in quite a while, and I would certainly pay to see future adventures with her if more films like this are to follow. This gets a very high recommendation from me, and I can’t wait to revisit this Sleek and freaky Sci-Fi world again.