Iconic director James Cameron first announced his intention to make a feature film based on the manga series Gunnm over 15 years ago. After numerous setbacks and delays we finally see the release of Alita: Battle Angel, now directed by Robert Rodriguez and produced by Cameron, but was it worth the wait?
Set more than 500 years into the future, in a world 300 years removed from a cataclysmic global conflict, Alita opens with Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz) scavenging in the junkyards of Iron City below the floating utopia of sky city Zalem. Here he spots the remains of a teenage cyborg girl, miraculously still alive. Following a quick patch up she is up and about but is suffering from total retrograde amnesia. At Dr. Ido’s suggestion she adopts the name Alita (Rosa Salazar) and sets about discovering her new surroundings.
We are soon introduced to a seemingly kind rogue Hugo (Keean Johnson), the brutal sport of Motorball, run by gangster Vector (Mahershala Ali) and the ruthless bounty hunters known as Hunter-Warriors. It turns out Iron City is a rather dangerous place and before long Alita finds herself in a life or death situation which forces her to instinctively defend herself. Through this violent outburst, Alita begins to recover some of her past memories, driving her to seek further conflict to understand her true nature.
The world of Alita: Battle Angel is a fascinating and aesthetically pleasing one, but there is a sense of familiarity. This is largely due to how faithfully Alita sticks to its source material, an issue shared with other recent manga adaptations. Many classic manga series have been heavily imitated in american sci-fi cinema over the past 20+ years and as a result you will have no doubt seen similar ideas explored elsewhere. Despite this there is a strong sense of attachment to the characters and the world, especially Alita, with a captivating performance from Rosa Salazar.
The supporting characters are largely interesting too, if a little cliched, but an absolutely stellar cast helps prevent them becoming too cheesy. Speaking of the cast, Cameron and Rodriguez have pulled in plenty of their hollywood connections, likely at the promise of expanded roles in future entries. There are uncredited appearances from the likes of Edward Norton, Michelle Rodriguez, Rick Yune, Jai Courtney and Casper Van Dien to name a few.
The film itself contains some fantastic action and CGI, you would expect nothing less considering this is produced by Cameron. Having Rodriguez at the helm also leads to a surprising grittiness at times, one particular bar fight sequence had me recalling classic fight scenes From Dusk Till Dawn and Desperado. There were a series of trailers prior to the release of the film that served as a love in discussion between the two directors and watching Alita you get a sense this wasn’t just hot air. The union of glossy Cameron production and gritty Rodriguez action works really well and is breathtaking at times.
Alita isn’t an entirely flawless film however, and where it falls down the most is under the sheer weight of content it tries to fit into its 2 hour run time. As the conclusion of the film nears there are several storylines the film is trying to wrap up and, while they do all get a resolution, it all feels a little abrupt. I’m not sure whether buffing out the runtime or losing some plotlines entirely for a possible sequel would have been the best solution for this, but having so many things to wrap up does lessen the impact of some of the films emotional payoffs.
Despite the issues with the final act Alita is still an overwhelmingly enjoyable sci-fi action film with a fantastic female lead character. The world that has been constructed around Alita is also enjoyable enough that I would love to see more of Alita’s adventures. As a possible franchise starter I think it’s off to a good start.
By Mark Jankowski