RBack in the ’90s, James Cameron optioned the rights to do a film adaptation of Yukito Kishiro’s manga Battle Angel Alita, and now he’s finally managed to produce that adaptation – though he had to hand off directing duties to Robert Rodriguez. So, how well did this passion project turn out?

Directed by Robert Rodriguez
Written by James Cameron & Laeta Kalogridis
Music by Junkie XL
Adapted by the manga Battle Angel Alita (or Gunnm in Japan) by Yukito Kishiro

Cast

Rosa Salazar as Alita
Christoph Waltz as Dr. Dyson Ido
Jennifer Connely as Chiren
Ed Skrein as Zapan
Mahershala Ali as Vector
Jackie Earl Haley as Grewishka
Keenan Johnson as Hugo
Edward Norton as Desty Nova

Premise

Several hundred years after the end of a destructive interplanetary (but not interstellar) war, one of the last cities on Earth is Iron City, a walled city existing underneath the floating city of Zalem (which is in turn on the bottom side of a space elevator). Iron City picks through the waste and detritus from Zalem and re-processes it, along with shipping material from the city’s factory and the farms outside the city up to Zalem. In Iron City, Dr. Dyson Ido, an exiled doctor from Zalem, finds the head and spinal column with a fully intact brain of a full-cyborg conversion girl. Ido provides the girl the cyborg body of his deceased daughter, and when she (and the girl) learns that the girl has lost her memories, Ido names the girl Alita.

As Alita starts to explore the world she’s found herself in, she starts to pick up little bits and pieces of her old life – she has memories of taking part in the past war, and in particular she’s a master of the cyborg martial art of Panzer Kunst – and she finds herself picking up more of these pieces through combat. As Alita works to recover her memory, she falls into conflict with Nova, a leader in Zalem, and his representative in Iron City – Vector. However, Nova has a personal interest in Alita as well.

High Points

So, a lot of the worldbuilding under the Premise, aside from a few bits that are explicitly explained, are spelled out through implied worldbuilding very well. I really appreciate movies that show instead of or in addition to telling

The fight scenes are very well realized and feel really brutal, which is helped from the fact that (as has been mentioned frequently in promotional interviews by both Rodriguez and Salazar), you can get away with a lot when the characters are cyborgs.

3D in the film is very well executed, with shots handling depth of field extremely well – particularly on scenes from high areas looking down.

Also, most of the acting performances are generally excellent, especially from Salazar and Waltz.

Low Points

Keenan Johnson as Hugo is… not great. It feels like Alita’s attraction to him is because he’s the first cute boy she’s met, which may be the point, but it still doesn’t help with audience buy-in.

Also, there’s no particularly good stopping point in this part of the manga – to reach a good stopping point that doesn’t leave things hanging for a sequel, you’d have to stuff way too much plot in this movie. This means that the film is going to end on a sequel hook.

Scores

Originality: This is an adaptation, but one that makes some subtle adjustments to make the manga work as a film. 4/6

Effect: The effects for Alita’s eyes were jarring in short bursts in the trailer, but they are something that I was able to adjust to very quickly over the course of the movie. Aside from that, the city and the other cyborgs Alita encounters are very well realized. 6/6

Acting: As mentioned under the high and low points – most of the cast is really good – except for Keenan Johnson as Hugo. 5/6

Production: 6/6

Story: They stuff a lot of story in this film – a lot of it works, but there are a few bits that feel over-stuffed. 4/6

Emotional Response: Hugo’s fate doesn’t hit as hard for the audience as it does for Alita – but otherwise the cast sells the emotional impact fairly well. 4/6

Overall: I really loved this movie, and it appears to be doing well enough at the box office (both in the US and abroad) that it might get a sequel. However, I do get why some people are bouncing off of this movie. 5/6

In total, I give Alita: Battle Angel 34 out of 42.

I’ve also done a vlog review of the film on my YouTube channel after I first saw the film.