Alita: Battle Angel (Film Review)

Alita is a film 20 years in the making. James Cameron (who is the writer and producer of the film) bought the rights for Alita over 20 years ago. Originally called Gunnm, it was a Japanese manga (comic) which released in 1990. James Cameron fell in love with the comic and bought the rights and it became his passion project after Titanic. Simultaneously he was working on the script for Avatar but when Avatar released with huge commercial success in 2009, Cameron shifted his focus to make multiple sequels to Avatar, and Alita went to the back burner. Cameron didn’t want this great story to gather dust and never get made, so he used his script and continued to produce the film, but hired seasoned filmmaker Robert Rodriguez to be at the helm and direct this project.

I was lucky enough to attend the premiere of Alita in IMAX. Firstly I have to say that this film is absolutely gorgeous and even more so in IMAX. The world they created in this film is magnificent, I was amazed by all the artwork and visual effects and set building done in combination to create a visually stunning city.
Peter Jackson’s visual effects company, Weta Digital, were the ones responsible for this breathtaking world created on screen and the design of the titular character Alita. Initially when I saw the trailer I found the animation for the character to be kind of out of place, but while watching the movie it did not bother me one bit. In fact, apart from the world created the best thing in the film is the main character.

Christoph Waltz as Dr. Dyson Ido

The film stars Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly , Mahershala Ali and Keean Johnson. And starts with Dr. Ido (Christoph Waltz) finding Alita (Rosa Salazar) in a scrap yard whose brain is still active so he takes her to his home office to build her a body and bring her back to life. There begins a tender father-daughter connection, and probably the only emotional character relationship in the film that actually works. Waltz as usual is great, but the stand out performance is Rosa Salazar as Alita. Given that most of the action sequences and stunts of the character are done with CGI, Salazar did do all the motion capture performance and dialogues. She does it so well that you can’t help but connect to this lost girl trying to find her place and purpose in this insane world. Unfortunately the film goes on to create a love story between Alita and Hugo (Keean Johnson) and this is where I felt the movie failed. The chemistry between these characters are not strong enough for the audience to be that invested. I won’t go into spoiler territory, but the climax of the film falls a bit flat due to the relationship of Alita and Hugo not being as effective as the filmmakers might have thought.

Mahershala Ali as Vector and Jennifer Connelly as Chiren

The other problem I have with the film is the wasted talents of Jennifer Connelly and Mahershala Ali. Both these Oscar winning actors are great but in this film they just seem like random supporting characters that could have been played by any other less talented actor and it wouldn’t have changed the film. Mahershala Ali (who has won an Oscar for his performance in Moonlight and is nominated for Green Book this year) is one of the most talented actors currently working in Hollywood. So if you are going to cast him as your villain, you have to make him a strong, menacing villain. But he is none of that, he just seems like a bland character who is more of a puppet than the actual shot caller.

The action choreography and the overall action sequences are elegantly done and captured. I am truly grateful that we did not get another quick cut action film, that cuts 50 times in a 2 minute fight scene. The framing of the action gave the characters breathing room and had the audience follow every movement and every detail of the world. This is especially effective during the Motorball scenes in the film. Due to the high speed pace of the sport, it was good to have clear visuals of what was happening. I was actually hoping there would be more Motorball in the film, because it was really impressive how the effects team executed it.

The only other film I can compare Alita: Battle Angel to is Ghost in the Shell (2017) starring Scarlett Johansson. That is because both these films are based on Japanese Manga that came out around the same time, 1989/1990. Both these films have a female lead who is part human and part cyborg, both of them are sci-fi/cyberpunk genres. But where Ghost in the Shell failed, Alita: Battle Angel flourishes.

Alita: Battle Angel is pretty accurate to its source material and creates a strong female lead. The film shines as an example on how to make a Hollywood film from a Manga/Anime. We have had decades of failed films that tried to recreate the magic of Japanese Manga/Anime. With Alita there is hope, it is a huge step in the right direction. The film might waste some of it’s characters and might use some cheesy dialogue, but it is a visual fest that has tremendous heart in it’s protagonist and her mentor, Dr. Ido.

Ido preparing Alita for the Motorball race.

I am giving Alita: Battle Angel a 7.5 out of 10.
A fun film and a visual treat for fans of manga/anime and fans who generally like sci-fi action films. The film does fall short in terms of its villain, supporting characters and their performances. Luckily it has the well captured bond of Ido and Alita that keeps its emotional arc afloat.

One thought on “Alita: Battle Angel (Film Review)

  1. I don’t know how but I completely missed the fact that Mahershala Ali is in this – he really is making a name for himself lately! I think I’m going to wait for a home release of Alita. It looks beautiful but it doesn’t scream ‘memorable’ to me. Great review!


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