Review: Alita: Battle Angel

Alita: Battle Angel has been a film in development since the early 2000s. Finally, James Cameron and director Robert Rodriguez bring the story to life. Based on the 1990 manga series of the same name (previously known as Gunnm) by Yukito Kishiro, the manga is a  9 volume story about Alita discovering her past and what her future holds. Part of the magic in adapting the story into a film is figuring out what part of her journey you’re going to tell.

The story takes place in the year 2563, 300 years after a war known as “The Fall”. The poor people live below in Iron City while the wealthier people live in a sky city known as Zalem – very reminiscent of 2013’s Elysium. After Dr. Ido Dyson (Chirstoph Waltz) finds a healthy cyborg head in the junkyard, he gives the head a body and names her Alita.

As Alita adapts to life in Iron City, she learns more about what she really is and what Dr. Dyson is up to every night. She’s also suspicious that Dr Dyson is withholding some information about her past. Alita’s new discoveries lead to a collision course with Vector (Mahershala Ali), his group a cyborg assassins, and Vector – the big bad.

Alita: Battle Angel is the closest thing to a live-action anime we’ve had onscreen. Rosa Salazar (from the Maze Runner films) is fantastic as Alita. she’s able to emote and give Alita a range of emotions necessary for this character to work. Motion capture has come a long way over the years, it’s more than just animated faces. Salazar’s performance in Alita shows how important it is to have a good actor even when their performance is mostly motion capture.

The  action is really good and exceptional at times. If there’s one reason to see this film, it’s for the crazy action scenes. Rodriguez does a fantastic job capturing the action and the different fighting styles. It’s a CGI heavy film, yet the action is clear. There are engaging fight sequence and a lot of it feels like a video game – Alita is going through Iron City fighting different battles until she reaches the final boss.

One of the best action sequences involves Alita’s big showdown at the Kansas Bar where she confronts a bar full of bounty hunters. The entire sequence is the kind of entertainment moviegoers hope to see. It’s action packed, visually stunning, and humorous.

The movie looses a little steam with it focuses on the motorball games and Alita’s teenage romance with Hugo (Keean Johnson). In one cringe-worthy scene, Alita offers Hugo a gift and it’s painful to watch. It feels like something from a CW show and not a badass action movie it was forced into. There’s enough Dawson’s Creek level teen drama, it’s shocking we didn’t see Pacey and Dawson strolling through Iron City. The mortorball scenes would be more interesting if the story spent more time in that world. Instead, motorball is a crutch to get people to the next Alita movie.

The biggest disappointment is the ending. Its especially disappointing because the story was really getting going before it ended.  To be fair, the ending isn’t bad; it’s just a huge set up for a sequel. The entire films feels less like an origin story and more like a prequel to the movie audiences really want to see. With James Cameron working on 1,000 Avatar sequels, who knows when the next chapter in Alita’s story will see the big screen.

Alita: Battle Angel is a fun, live action manga. It’s part dystopian teen drama, part renegade robot action movie. It’s a film that’s fun for all ages and a visual spectacle that only be appreciated on the big screen.

Grade: B+