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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
I have to say, my review would have been significantly less positive. Of course, it comes from the perspective of someone with no previous exposure to the source material, but a film shouldn’t require previous exposure.
I’ll give you the visual effects and the action sequences. They’re spectacular and, twenty years ago, they might have been enough. There’s some decent world-building. It’s a wonky world, but that’s expected in genre. But a movie needs to engage me with the characters and story, and this didn’t do it, for reasons your review notes.
(at this point, I start to get ranty)
The story runs chaotically along before fast-forwarding to an arbitrary stopping point, to be continued in a sequel which may or may not get made (the film is underperforming somewhat). And the characters? Dear gods, your comments on the problems with the central relationship are too kind. We get no sense of why our protagonist falls for him, too little emotional character development between ANYONE and ANYONE, and (more seriously) nothing to illustrate the Great Love which is supposed to be the film’s emotional core. Instead, we have two characters with chemistry not seen since Anakin held Amidala by the lake on Naboo.
Add to that the fact that it’s an adaptation so heavy in tropes that it could qualify for a Trope Drinking Game, and….
Well, let’s just say I left the theatre a lot less enthusiastic than you did!
When it’s out on video, my wife and I will see it. She enjoyed Ultraviolet because it was pretty, even if the story wasn’t all there. This sounds “Visually Pleasing.”
The (all too brief) RollerBall scenes were insanely awesome, would have been nice to have seen a “normal” match earlier in the movie before the major one we saw just for comparison as to how hard-core that was. But yes, the fight scenes were very well done. I personally could have done without Ed Skrein’s character though.
I have no familiarity with the source material so I went into the film with no pre-conceptions about what would happen, etc. I thought it did well. Because I’m not familiar with the source material (which the vast majority of movie goers wouldn’t be), I am not put off by “fast forwarding” the plot, since I have no idea what plot would have been fast forwarded..
I am, however, hoping for an extended “cut” at some point that fleshes out the narrative a bit. A few places could probably have used some bridging scenes but those were likely cut for run time (and maybe budget) reasons. I don’t think it would take much to even out the somewhat choppy feel of the narrative. Also, I agree that a normal rollerball match would have been good, but that would have been difficult to work in without breaking the pacing. That said, on the balance, things were paced pretty well considering the density of the narrative and the constraints on feature film length. Maybe it would have been better as two parts, but let’s be realistic, most people other than superfans of the source material wouldn’t have been happy with a narrative split in the middle and it would have tanked badly. That could work for something like a Netflix style long form episodic movie, but not in the cinema.
I didn’t mind the sequel hook at the end. It felt like the natural place for a narrative break and, while I would very much like to see the sequel, I think Battle Angel stands well enough on its own that I won’t be too bothered if the sequel fails to materialize.