Alita: Battle Angel (2019)
Alita: Battle Angel (2019)

Genre: Sci-Fi Adventure Running Time: 2 hrs. 2 min.

Release Date: February 14th, 2019 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Robert Rodriguez Actors: Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Keean Johnson, Ed Skrein, Jackie Earle Haley

 


 

T

he year is 2563. Three centuries have passed since “The Fall,” a cataclysmic war that left mankind’s crowning achievements in ruin and Earth’s remaining population huddled beneath Zalem, the last floating “sky city.” Among the scrap raining down onto Iron City from above, cybersurgeon Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz) discovers the dismembered body of a cyborg girl. Taking her back to his clinic, Ido reconnects the girl’s “core” to a new cybernetic body and names her Alita (Rosa Salazar).

“The strong prey on the weak.” As the amnesic young girl slowly adapts to her surroundings, she learns of the harsh realities of life in Iron City. Common murderers and thieves prowl the lawless streets at night looking for easy marks, while ruthless bounty hunters dubbed “Hunter Warriors” in turn stalk these malefactors for a reward from “The Factory,” a secretive organization run from Zalem but governed by corrupt kingpin Vector (Mahershala Ali) on the ground. Amid the depravity and despair, Alita also finds hope and love in the form of hard-working Hugo (Keean Johnson), a scavenger and Motorball enthusiast who longs for the day he can buy his way up to Zalem. As Alita grows closer to Hugo, her memory returns piece by piece, revealing a dark past that threatens to tear the two apart forever.

From the opening minutes, it’s evident that “Alita: Battle Angel” is attempting to be remarkably faithful to the two-episode anime from the ‘90s, which itself was based on Yukito Kishiro’s popular manga. Ido’s perusal through heaps of discarded mechanical parts, from which he plucks an eyeball from a robotic cranium, is a direct duplication of the art and animation of the source material, as is the stunning visualization of Zalem. The production designs are impressive, particularly at the start, even if they now appear derivative of earthbound components from the “Star Wars” universe or “Blade Runner’s” postapocalyptic, decaying cityscapes.

There are deviations, however, such as Ido’s conspicuous accent, as well as his shop assistant. But these are trivial things, which have little impact on the story. The doctor remarks early on that the real magic behind the bustling quarters of the city and the cybernetic appendages he affixes to otherwise limbless workers is the engineering – yet Alita’s own design screams of something altogether alien. “Oh. You’re a cyborg.” Few characters recognize her underlying mechanical parts, despite the fact that she’s the only person with excessively oversized eyes. Clearly, she’s modeled to look like a typical manga depiction, but it’s still odd that no one else in this universe has the same modification of such enormous eyeballs.

Her look is just a part of the painstaking adaptation from illustrations to three-dimensional roles, so it’s something easily discounted. In other areas, this updated exhibition is especially competent, elaborating upon and detailing countless pieces that were previously unexplored or unrevealed. About halfway through, her origins are spelled out completely – a significant factor that was left out of the anime entirely. Here, relationships are given exact designations, hunter-warrior work is chronicled more precisely, and backstories and motives become understandable; clarifications that were glaringly absent from the anime are finally included. It’s partly thanks to the longer running time, but it’s also attributable to scripting and storytelling; without having read the manga (the anime is more befuddling than not), audiences will be able to comprehend the characters and the plot.

“Alita: Battle Angel” might be one of the most proficient adaptations in a long time (easily besting such comparable endeavors like “Ghost in the Shell” and “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets”), but its premise occasionally shows signs of its age; regardless of its originality in 1990, numerous other properties have beaten it to the big screen, though with considerably less entertainment value. Sadly, ideas such as motorball – a violent, gladiatorial sport intended to entertain the masses – are given greater focus, yet appear extremely rehashed. “Can a human love a cyborg?” inquires Alita, touching upon an absorbing empirical romance notion, just before segueing to another motorball clash.

Similarly, many of the character designs look overly familiar (some as if from Dick Tracy strips, others from “Judge Dredd” or “Ready Player One”). The good news, however, is that the preoccupation with martial arts combat and destructive skirmishes results in decipherable action; gravity is defied and computer graphics are overused, but it’s not difficult to see what is taking place. A few breathtaking stunts are dulled by the special effects, yet Rosa Salazar’s performance capture (as distinguished from mere motion capture) integration is largely seamless. Even the limitations of adapting only the first couple parts of the manga manage a satisfactory conclusion (clearly leaving room for sequels); perhaps “Alita: Battle Angel’s” greatest strength is that it skillfully builds upon a property that, with its fragmented narrative and unpolished visual translations, had so much obvious room for improvement.

– The Massie Twins

  • 7/10