Like Captain Marvel, at the center of Alita: Battle Angel is a strong female character who doesn’t know her past. In the movie, scientist Dr. Dyson Ido finds a disembodied female cyborg with fully functioning brain in a scrapyard, gives her a new body and names her after his deceased daughter. Then, Alita wakes up with no memory of her past and a whole new world to discover. Except this whole new world is a world of cyborgs, bounty hunters, cyborg criminals, scrap dealers and extreme sports called Motorball, and a place called Iron City—a wasteland sitting beneath the floating city of Zalem.
You know the girl meets cute boy and they fall in love kind of story. Alita is that kind of movie, only this time the girl is a cyborg and its set in post-apocalyptic future. Plus, it’s also a worrying father and his rebellious daughter type. Well, Dr. Ido not only names Alita after her daughter, the cyborg body he gave her was initially meant for his daughter before she died. And it’s actually the latter that’s more convincing mainly because Dr. Ido is played by Christoph Waltz (always terrific, though underused here). Yeah, the Hugo-Alita love story, is sort of… kind of… hokey. Though there’s a nice little scene where Alita offers him her heart, literally.
Despite the clunky dialogue, half-baked villains, and a narrative that lacks some connective tissues to make it truly engaging, two things clearly stands out in the movie. One is Rosa Salazar who plays Alita, and two, the action scenes, which are truly amazing. And its what most people who saw the movie are talking about. Why? The fight scenes are not incoherent mess made from erratic camera movements and rapid fire editing (our favorite examples of which, The Winter Soldier). The Motorball sequence is a textbook example in making great action movie compositions, combining great fight choreography, CGI and green screen with fluid camera movements and editing, achieving maximum coherence and clarity.
But fight scenes this good don’t always work without a relatable character, a hero/ine to root for. And that’s the other thing that makes Battle Angel memorable, the Battle Angel herself, played by the feisty and charming Rosa Salazar. Honestly, after watching Captain Marvel, I can’t help but agree with what they’re saying in those YouTube videos. Rosa Salazar’s amnesiac cyborg girl is more compelling than Brie Larson’s amnesiac Kree super soldier. Both characters are tough, super, but Alita has more heart. Ditto with Christoph Waltz’ Dr. Ido compared with Nick Fury as played by Samuel L. Jackson. Captain Marvel gives us cool, fun characters, Alita gives us characters to care and root for.
Those big anime eyes? Well, it takes a little while, but after Alita learns about Motorball, plays its streetball version and replaces orange with chocolate as her “best food in the world,” she starts to feel real and relatable. Even though in the back of my mind, I still wish that James Cameron just used Rosa Salazar’s face instead, the same way they did with Ed Skrein’s Zapan and the other cyborg characters.
It also helps that the movie has one of the best visuals among recent big Hollywood movies. Nothing here looks Marvel-bland, as in CGI made in production line with deadlines to beat (i.e., Captain Marvel, Captain America: Civil War). Though I don’t really consciously gauge how good or bad the CGI is in every movie I see, it’s actually easy to tell when the CGI’s not good. Usually, it sticks out and gives me a feeling that’s somethings not quite right. It gets me out of the movie, like in that atrocious final fight in Black Panther. I initially thought it was just the abysmal fight choreography and the editing and not the CGI. Turns out, it’s all of them.
Alita: Battle Angel isn’t something one would call a very good movie. It’s pretty solid though. There’s really nothing new about a story based on Yukito Kishiro’s cyberpunk manga, but then offering something new isn’t really what the movie is for. It’s “Romeo & Juliet” script is just weak but the focus on Alita’s “becoming” works better than what’s in Captain Marvel. The plot may be pretty simple but at least it’s not disappointingly dumb like in the Captain America movies, which pretend to say something relevant and topical (e.g., surveillance, government oversight) and then hold back on that premise in the middle of the movie and give you something else.
Alita: Battle Angel may be far from perfect but it kicks fuckton of butts for sure. It’s action-packed, entertaining, but flawed. The title of Emily Yoshida’s review on Vulture “Alita: Battle Angel Is Ungainly, Hokey, and… Kinda Charming” pretty much sums up the movie for me. Like previous Hollywood-made live-action anime/manga adaptations (i.e., Dragon Ball Evolution, Ghost In the Shell), this movie has its problems. Still, it’s the best manga/anime adaptation Hollywood has ever put out yet. And for fans of Gunmm and anime/manga fans in general, that’s nothing but good news.