Alita: Battle Angel – A Review (and a bit of history)

Alita: Battle Angel – A Review (and a bit of history)


This is a movie that I've had mixed feelings about since I heard about it getting made. It is a manga series that I enjoyed a lot in my adolescence for its delightful mix of philosophy and very bloody gore. The series' underlying question -”What does it mean to be human?” - helped a lot at times when I was figuring that out for myself. The trailers intrigued me. Visually, this movie seemed to have a lot going for it. It did appear to draw design inspiration from the original manga fairly well. But there was still the question of how the movie would be using the source material and how well it would bring that material to life.


Battle Angel Alita (known as 'Gunnm' in Japan) is a manga series by Yukito Kishiro that began in 1990 and finished its original run in 1995. The series has a total of 9 volumes of manga. This movie goes through 4 volumes of the manga in its 2-hour run. That is a lot of material to cover in that amount of time, so it all feels rather compressed. Alita (Rosa Salazar) awakens, swiftly becomes a Hunter-Warrior, and then moves to become a Sports Star. Those are just the broad strokes - ignoring all the conflicts, questions, changes, deaths, and growth everyone will be going through in the meantime!


The film begins as the manga does, with Dr. Dyson Ido (Daisuke Ido in the manga, played here by Christoph Waltz) finding Alita's upper chest and head in the garbage dump while he was scavenging for cybernetic parts to use. He gives her a new cybernetic body. From there, she must learn the world around her anew and begin to learn about who she was, while also building toward being someone completely new. We get a nice bit of world-building simply through what the people talk about: notably the hunter-warriors, Iron City's Mercenary Defenders. It's not long before we are introduced to Motorball, the blood sport within Iron City (aka the Scrapyard). This sport is overseen by Vector (Mahershala Ali), who is the main controller of the antagonists we encounter during the movie. We see the relationship between Ido and Alita change as she learns more about herself. We see struggles she goes through with love interest Hugo (Keean Johnson) in pursuit of his dream to reach Zalem, the looming Sky City above the Scrapyard.


Visually, it does need to be said that this was an impressive movie. The CGI, especially in the background, was indistinguishable from the practical set. The frequent cybernetic implants joined seamlessly to the performers who had them (no poorly-covered mustaches here.) The full-bodied cyborgs that we got to see throughout the movie looked very much in place in this world. The details that we got to see on the bodies of the cyborgs was very impressive. You can see small details rendered like futuristic tattoos on their cybernetic bodies. One Hunter Warrior has an amazing rendition of the Mayan Calender on his back. All of it adds up to being a great treat to watch.


Time to address the eyes in the movie. Alita's big anime eyes on an otherwise realistic-looking character were something people who watched the trailer found unsettling. While it was initially off-putting, it ultimately works for the movie and pays good homage to the origins of the character. With modern technology, it is very hard to see even the faint seams that exist in the movie. Though Alita is 100% CGI throughout the film, Salazar still very much performed her role with motion capture and was there on set for the other characters to interact with. There were still times where the performer was plainly not there, but overall it did work very well for the movie.


The movie interwove a number of plot elements fairly well, making it seem like the combination of elements was how it was initially meant to be. This does allow the movie to have higher stakes earlier in its own timeline than the source material. It still worked well. There are a good number of fights, and we get to see Alita remembering more and more throughout the whole thing.


While a lot was shuffled around, the first big villain, Desty Nova, remains in place. He is the puppet master behind most of the antagonists that we initially encounter in the film. We only get to see him a few times, but he does look amazing and has the iconic glasses that he is known for wearing. He is not very well developed in this film, but both the cliffhanger ending and his portrayal by an A-list celebrity (whose casting was so secret that he is uncredited) is clearly setting him up to play a bigger role in the sequel the studio is clearly hoping for.


I can say it is fun to watch, particularly if you enjoyed the manga. I give it a light recommendation. It has some emotional moments where you can really feel for Alita. As an origin story, it is a great place to start one's dive in the Manga itself. With 5 more volumes still to adapt, it has a lot to cover! (There are also 2 additional series, that continue the story of Battle Angel Alita: Last Orders”, and “Mars Chronicle”.) The movie was fun to watch, a comfortable 2 hours, and definitely was enjoyable.

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