It’s a world of despair and lawlessness. A world of human-mechanical hybrids. A world where the elite live in the sky while the rest wither below. It is the world of Alita: Battle Angel.
Cyber-doctor Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz) discovers the broken frame of an amnesiac cyborg girl he dubs Alita (Rosa Salazar) in the scrap heap of Iron City, below the floating utopia of Zalem that dumps its refuse on the peasantry below. Ido vows to care for Alita, but she is drawn to discovering her past, bits and pieces flashing to her in the heat of fighting and possibly rooted in the dystopic history of the sad state of the planet. She befriends a local scrapper named Hugo (Keean Johnson) and draws the attention of the corrupt factory boss, Vector (Mahershala Ali) and mysterious scientist Chiren (Jennifer Connelly) leading her into further conflict.
After years and years of false-starts, James Cameron has finally brought the big screen adaptation of Alita to life, bestowing directing duties to the ever talented and imaginative Robert Rodriguez. A perfect fit considering his adaptation of Frank Miller’s Sin City that felt like it brought the pages to life. As a fan of the original manga and anime by Yukito Kishiro, also known as Battle Angel Alita or Gunnm (Gun Dream), it is simply astounding seeing the characters and scenes realized.
While rooted in the first couple volumes, and heavily from the anime original video animation, it does a great job in blending elements together and even setting up arcs and characters from later volumes for potential sequels that I sincerely hope we get. While there will certainly be some controversies as other characters and elements were combined or left out in the process, it did well by distilling such an expansive story into just one film. A couple of plotlines get a little muddled, but considering the scale of such an adaptation, it is impressive to say the least.
As for the characters, Rosa Salazar truly becomes Alita on screen. She captures all the facet of the character, from an amnesiac girl trying to find her place in a harsh world, to an unforgiving warrior who will fight to the death to protect those around her. The decision to make her an entirely CG character is one with its share of controversy, but once you get past the large eyes it doesn’t diminish anything and only adds to her uncanny nature as a cyborg. An entirely artificial body with a human brain. The rest of the cast stand out, from Christoph Waltz as the father Ido to Mahershala Ali’s cool and cruel Vector. The ensemble cast from the original series is realized.
Of course, being a James Cameron produced film it is a visual feat for the eyes. Iron City representing a dystopic but diverse city with a melting pot of people, cyborgs, and cultures from an Earth that has since been mostly ruined. The fight choreography between cyborgs and martial artists are stunning to behold. This is a movie that must be seen in Imax, 3D, a combination thereof, or at least the largest and most impressive screen you can find. Imax allowing 26% more action to be shown in frame. This is especially cool during the scenes of the cyborg sport known as Motorball, a transhuman extension of deathsports like Rollerball.
Alita won’t be for everyone of course. But for what it does, it does amazingly. A story of what it truly means to be human and what our dreams mean in a society that seems built solely for crushing them. Alita is one for the dreamers, past, present, and future.
Alita: Battle Angel opens in theater Feburary 14th, 2019.