Alita: Battle Angel review
You have to appreciate movies like today's that are willing to take a big budgeted risk, especially if it's mostly original. Its not surprise that most studios tend to put more focus on established franchises…and I don't blame them. In the Hollywood system of actors and storytelling, it's still a business and they have to put as much focus there as well. One of the reasons we don't get too many original blockbusters is that more recent attempts have not done well. Is it because the movies aren’t good? Likely. Is it because their not an established franchise? Maybe, but there's more to that.
Today's movie is based off of an Japanese manga, but those have not had a good track record when it comes to appealing a mainstream audience. Ghost in the Shell and Dragonball Z have large American fanbases, but their movies didn’t do that well. This is where a lot of analysts tend miss the mark; it's hard to predict an audiences tastes. Sure, a trend might make it easier, but I believe that people don't know what they want until they see it. Will people be interested enough about Alita: Battle Angel to make it a franchise? Let's see.
In a post apocalyptic world after a large war, 2563 shows a mega city living under another one that's said to be nearly impossible to get to. Whatever the top city doesn't want, is disposed of in a large junkyard within Iron City. While looking for anything, Dr. Dyson (Played by Christoph Waltz) finds a broken female cyborg with a brain that's still functional. He takes it back to his lab, where he's made a business making robot limbs and repairs. He manages to repair the cyborg, wake her up and name her Alita, after his deceased daughter.
Alita seems to have no memory of her previous life, but is just as curious as any teenage girl. She makes friends with Hugo (played by Keean Johnson) who shows her the ropes of a popular sport, motarball. While learning more about society and the city, she uncovers Dr. Dyson as a hunter-warrior. She too decides to become a hunter-warrior when marital arts and weapons skills suddenly emerge. Along for the journey is motorball elite Vector (played by Mahershala Ali), Dr. Dyson's ex-wife Chiren (Played by Jennifer Connelly) and more cyborgs that make Alita question herself, her peers and the state of society.
It's clear that Alita: Battle Angel really wants to build a world where an audience can escape to (this is where producer James Cameron's fingerprints can be identified). For the most part, the movie does look really good. The design allows a lot of cyberpunk to be implemented, especially on Alita, who may be the first "live action anime" character. You'd think her big eyes would be a distraction, but I found myself forgetting about that and getting into her character and story. Rosa Salazar adds a lot of sweetness with a determined spirit that makes you root for her.
Most of the side characters work too. Christoph Waltz shows a lot of pain as a man whose looking to regain an entire life. Mahershala Ali has the presence of an experienced businessman who has every right to be arrogant. Though Keen Johnson can seem a bit on the "Hollywood hunk" side, he does fine enough as well. You understand why he would be drawn to Alita, acting both as a parent and as a love interest. Everyone seems to have the right motivation to get the story going.
What about the story? While I said the movie was designed well, it's writing is not as clean. This also wants to be a franchise so bad, that a lot of time is spent on world building. This can work, like Black Panther or Mad Max: Fury Road which blends exposition and story without much flaw. Alita: Battle Angel tries to get through a lot of story. It requires your attention if you want to have a full understanding. On one scene, were focusing on hunter-killers, then it's all about the motorball sport, and then it's about her finding her past, or it may be about the various gangs that roam Iron City.
I'll give this three Alita mangas out of five. I did have fun watching parts of it, but I did also find myself tuning out when the story switches gears. While an average Joe could still watch and enjoy, this is something that I doubt a lot of people are going to connect with. If your into cyberpunk and science fiction, you'll probably find a lot to enjoy from this. I doubt I'll be playing along for the maybe sequel.