At first glance, Alita: Battle Angel exhibits many of the signs for a bad movie: a Hollywood film is trying again to make a live-action manga, they changed directors midway through production, and they pushed back the release date multiple times. Even the fans didn’t give this artistic endeavor a chance. However, there was a glimmer of hope from having James Cameron and Robert Rodriguez involved, and thankfully, just like the cybernetic enhancements in the film itself, Alita: Battle Angel came out stronger, faster, and better than expected.
Alita Battle Angel is based on a manga from the 90s where Cyborgs are the new standard in this dystopian world. Dr. Ido (Christoph Waltz) is an expert in cybernetics who discovers a unique specimen in the junkyard, then brings her back from the brink of death. He gives the cyborg a new body, and with the classic trope of amnesia, he gives her a new name: Alita. Unlike other movies about powerful beings with memory loss, Alita (Rosa Salazar) lacks the typical ennui, instead, seeing the world as a beautiful playground. She makes friends, finds love, and eventually, a purpose. As most stories go, she slowly discovers more about her past while protecting the people she loves from powerful and frightening adversaries. Her rose-tinted glasses get smashed, and this brave new world isn’t as safe or kind as she hoped.
Bringing Alita: Battle Angel to life wasn’t going to be an easy feat. The filmmakers needed to introduce the world, keep the core themes intact, and treat the characters with respect. Trying to bring all of that to an unfamiliar audience in only two and a half hours is difficult, to say the least, but under the watchful care of Rodriguez and Cameron, Alita: Battle Angel accomplishes storytelling better than most. With minimal exposition, even the most novice fans can jump right into the world. No time is wasted on unnecessary, long-winded dialogue about history and politics; every scene is carefully placed to develop the plot and characters. With all that extra time, the filmmakers are able to focus on the true strengths of this movie: the effects.
James Cameron is a prodigy when it comes to developing and adopting new technology and push it to the extreme.
Titanic, Avatar, and Terminator 2: Judgement Day were all created on Cameron’s vision, while Rodriguez knows how to make action flow with grace, dignity. These two juggernauts together are able to create a movie that goes beyond anything that has come out in a long time. The motion-capture performances are fluid, and reach a point of realism that makes them blend into the scenery without a second glance. Alita takes the uncanny valley and embraces it; her distinct look is unsettling at first, as she doesn’t look like anyone around her, and the way she talks and moves sends out unsettling vibes early on. However, as the story follows her journey, her sunshine eyes and comforting smile are welcoming, and they only bring hope to a deadly world of violence and pride.
One of the most interesting aspects of Alita: Battle Angel is the way it treats cybernetics. Robocop and Cyborg treat “enhancements” as replacements; the characters feel less human and wrestle with their own identity. In this world, however, cybernetics is a way of life. Some people get replacement parts because of an accident, others so they can join the workforce. There’s even a class structure, where not everyone can afford the best upgrades. Alita’s world looks at cybernetics the same way we look at phones, or clothes — it’s just a part of life, and that makes the movie even more beautiful.
Alita: Battle Angel doesn’t take many risks when it comes to the story, and though a lot needed to be changed from the source material, it helps to have some knowledge of classic science fiction tropes. Alita’s cuteness can also be too much at times, but the film makes up for any failures with its gorgeous effects, fast-paced action, and take on cybernetics. They want to entertain, and when the audience walks out of the theater, they won’t stop thinking about what they watched. Cameron and Rodriguez have issued a challenge here for other directors to better, as Alita: Battle Angel is a technological marvel and will do everything to make that jaw drop. Make sure to watch it in IMAX for the full effect.