“Alita: Battle Angel” stars Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Ed Skrein, Jackie Earle Haley, and Keean Johnson. Released on February 14, 2019, the film is about a cyborg who goes on a journey of self-discovery.
The film is directed by Robert Rodriguez, who also directed films such as “From Dusk till Dawn”, “Spy Kids”, “Sin City”, and “Machete”. It is based on the 1990 manga series, Gunnm (Battle Angel Alita in English), created by Yukito Kishiro. It didn’t take us this long to receive the first big-budget blockbuster of the new year. This latest adaptation of a Japanese manga hopes to gain the same amount of success as “Black Panther” last year and “Deadpool” three years ago because action blockbusters equal big money. I haven’t really heard of the manga the film is based on before I read some information about it. I mean, do I really look like someone who reads comic books from Japan? However, I was intrigued by how it looked when I first saw the trailer for it two years ago. Yeah, you read that right, the very first trailer for “Alita: Battle Angel” actually came out in 2017. It was originally set for a July 2018 release, but was later moved to December to avoid competition, which would’ve been a good idea if it wasn’t set to compete against a lovable transforming alien robot and an aquatic superhero during that timeline. So, the studio moved the film one last time to February in order to get a head start during this year’s blockbuster season. It took producer James Cameron more than a decade to get this one going because of his work on “Avatar”, and from what I heard, all of that waiting seemed to have paid off in terms of its lukewarm reviews. This type of reception was actually quite impressive compared to the reviews from the other American adaptations of the popular source materials from Japan, like “Dragonball Evolution”. It looked like it has some qualities that’ll win over fans of the source material, but is it something that’s worth recommending to newcomers as well, including myself?
When it comes to adapting Japanese manga into mainstream movies for America, there are certain things that can go wrong if the filmmakers aren’t careful. Japanese source materials like “Dragonball” and “Death Note” are like prized possessions to the hard-core fans, and one false move can send them into an unapologetic frenzy. “Dragonball Evolution” is (and always will be for “Dragonball” fans) the prime example of how not to do the source material justice for American audiences. So I was a tiny bit concerned that “Alita” might suffer the same fate. After viewing it for myself, my concerns quickly flew out the window. As someone who hasn’t read the manga, I was immediately impressed at how the film got me connected to its cyberpunk world and the characters, both visually and narratively. The story did have certain plot elements that we’re familiar with and there were a few moments that didn’t exactly hit the right emotional beats, such as the relationship between Alita (Salazar) and Dr. Dyson Ido (Waltz), but its cybernetic heart surprisingly kept on beating throughout the entire film because of the effort that was put into making the characters believable. It’s not going to win any awards for its screenplay, but it did its part in making its substance as well-known as Rodriguez’s visual style. The cast did a solid job with their performances, especially Rosa Salazar, who was an absolute delight as the title character. She had the right amount of charisma and heart to ignite her character’s robotic core with a sense of personality. Christoph Waltz also delivered an impressive performance as Ido, and Mahershala Ali was just as talented as ever as Vector, an entrepreneur for a deadly sport known as Motorball. There are many words I can use to describe the film’s CGI effects, such as “astounding”, “grand”, and “pretty”. I was expecting them to be all of those things, and I wasn’t disappointed. The visuals worked wonders in bringing the world of the manga series to life as well as representing Alita’s character design and its intense action sequence, with the Motorball scenes being my personal highlights of the film. I liked the fact that the CGI for Alita didn’t feel out of place when she’s in the same scene as the live-action actors. It’s just one of those things that showcase the hard work that Rodriguez and producer James Cameron had put into this film. The only major flaw I had with the film, aside from its familiar plot, was the ending. No, I’m not complaining about its set-up for more sequels. I felt that the ending was a bit underwhelming and rushed when it comes to the film’s emotional depth. I’m not saying that the ending was bad. I’m saying that I was expecting a bit more from it.
Overall, the substance in “Alita: Battle Angel” wasn’t as strong and fierce as the title character herself, but it had the right spark in its system to deliver a blockbuster that’s both entertaining and visually stylish. Despite its flawed narrative, the film has the right qualities to please not just the fans of the source material, but also newcomers as well. Thanks to its cast, Rodriguez’s stylish vision, the action sequences, and likable characters, “Alita” is a manga-to-film adaptation that’s done right. Oh, and before you ask, I did manage to see the film in 3D, and it was pretty immersive. Definitely worth the extra money unless you’re not a fan of 3D.