My Thoughts on: Alita: Battle Angel (2019)

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*note: spoilers for Alita: Battle Angel can be found below

After being forced to delay my trip to the movie theater for a week (blame my sinuses), I finally got to see Alita: Battle Angel last night and all I can say is wow! This might be the best Western adaptation of a manga I’ve ever seen. For those not in the know, this film is based on Yukito Kishiro’s manga series Gunnm (better known to Western audiences as Battle Angel Alita). The film was in development for close to 20 years (it was originally announced in 2003) and while the film isn’t perfect, honestly I feel like it was worth the long wait. Alita: Battle Angel is directed by Robert Rodriguez and produced by James Cameron.

First, an overview. Alita: Battle Angel is set in the year 2563, 300 years after a devastating war known only as “the Fall.” Alita (Rosa Salazar) is salvaged from a junk pile by Dr. Ido (Christoph Waltz who for once isn’t playing a villain) and awakens with no memory of who she used to be. The story is set in Iron City, a cyberpunk metropolis located directly underneath Zalem, a floating sky city. Under Ido’s watchful (and protective) eye, Alita sets out to discover who or what she used to be. Along the way, she discovers the insane sport of Motorball (imagine roller derby, NASCAR racing, and pro wrestling combined into a single sport where you fight to the death) and falls in love with a human named Hugo (Keean Johnson) who in turn is entangled with the dangerous Vector (Mahershala Ali).

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While this film is incredibly beautiful, it is, as I said, flawed. The biggest problem is the story makes a hundred times more sense IF you read the manga first (or at least the first two volumes). While the broad strokes of the film are largely faithful to the original story, there are a myriad of background details that you’ll miss or otherwise not understand without the manga’s explanations. To be fair though, I feel like Alita: Battle Angel tries very hard to explain as much as it can without being too exposition heavy. Another issue I noticed right away is how the story begins. The discovery of Alita and her reawakening literally takes place in the first five minutes of the film. This is more of a personal preference on my part, but I feel like the film should have started with some of the flashback material we get throughout the film playing at the beginning instead as a sort of prologue.

And speaking of the flashbacks…I loved watching them, but they almost create more questions than answers. This is largely due to the fact that Alita: Battle Angel is blatantly setting up for a sequel that we may or may not get. I’m not against sequel hooks per se (Battle Angel Alita is hardly the kind of story you can tell in one film) but to leave several story threads hanging in the hopes that a sequel will finish the job…that I have a problem with. This leads to the biggest problem in the film: Nova (Edward Norton in a non-speaking role). While the film implies that Nova is the “big villain” of the story, we learn next to nothing about him (aside from the fact that he’s apparently immortal). This is very frustrating especially if a sequel never comes.

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Aside from these problems, the film really blew me away at times (in a good way). The setting of Iron City and Zalem looks like it came straight out of the manga. While I do agree that Alita’s over-large “anime eyes” look a little peculiar, for me I was able to adjust to them fairly quickly. I also love the motion capture that was used to bring Alita to life, she looks very real (no sense of the uncanny valley at all). I was also pleasantly surprised to not be bothered by the romantic sub-plot between Alita and Hugo, which comes across as incredibly sweet (if somewhat rushed). I did roll my eyes a little when the film included a stereotypical kiss in the rain, but it felt like a good kind of cheesy at the same time.

If you’re on the fence about seeing this film, I highly recommend checking it out. Despite the flaws, it IS a good story and one that deserves to be continued. Let me know what you think about Alita: Battle Angel in the comments below and have a great day!

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