Alita: Battle Angel is a Technical Marvel and Confusing Adaptation

Alita: Battle Angel, set to be released this Valentine’s day, is a science-fiction movie based on the acclaimed Japanese manga Gunmn (also known as Battle Angel Alita) from Yukito Kishiro and directed by Robert Rodriguez.

*WARNING: SPOILERS TO FOLLOW*

Cameron, of Titanic and Avatar fame, takes a clear decisive direction in this film as the producer and screenplay writer.

Although the rights for Gunmn was first acquired in 2003 by James Cameron, the movie has faced continual challenges in getting off the ground. More than 15 years after the acquistion, we are finally able to see the cinematic vision that Cameron originally intended.

Although Rodriguez directs Alita with a clear eye, you can tell that Cameron is the mastermind and key mentor behind some of the key decisions in the film.

Rodriquez, as the Director, and Cameron, as a producer, were able to create a movie that tried to do it’s best to maintain true to the spirit of the graphic novel, although it doesn’t quite live up to expectations.

Rodriguez better known for Sin City (2005) and From Dusk til Dawn (1996), does a hardy job in adapting the manga. There is heart in the adaptation, though maybe not enough reason.

Alita is exactly what you expect in a movie of this grand spectacle, taking it’s cue from earlier CGI-laden flicks (such as Cameron’s aforementioned Avatar and the Wachowski’s 2008 Speed Racer), Alita delivers on its promises with great aplomb.

The CGI work is both technical and stunning and one of the best motion-capture figures in recent memory. Alita, the character, deftly bridges the uncanny valley- a problem that has often left this genre of movies anemic and repulsive to the average movegoer. Notwithstanding, Alita, for all of her “snapchat filter” looks, is believable as a character without the inevitable squeamishness brought about in manufactured digital humans.

With a budget of $200 million, the Weta productions team makes excellent use of their skills to create a realistic world. In fact, Alita shines in its world building. Iron City, the grungy city of a near-future is so believable that you can see the dust, sweat, and fear saturated in the walls. It’s as believable as it is fantastical.

Alita, though a cyborg, is made human by the reality of the world around her. It’s much easier to suspend our disbelief when everything around her looks as good as it does.

The titular Alita is played by Rosa Salzar with an eager innocence that adds to the depth of the character. At the beginning of the film Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz) finds Alita in a junyard and eagerly brings her back to work on her. He’s a “cybergsurgeon” and soon becomes a foster father to the battle angel. After being “brought back to life”, we find that Alita has lost all of her memories. This search for identity lies at the core of who she is and is the key impetus to much of the rest of the movie.

We see Alita’s bright-eyed youth slowly grow into fierce womanhood as the movie progresses. As she learns more about who she is we see her finally realize her destiny as a “hunter-warrior”: this is where the movie really takes off. One of the most satisfying scenes is where she fights a roving cyborg set on murder and destruction by herself. None of her fellow “hunter-warriors” would endanger themselves for the sake of mere morality.Alita’s acclimation of, “I do not stand by in the presence of evil”, is precisely the battle cry that is needed in our relativisitic society. We must stand strong when confronted by evil. Alita’s determination in fighting for what is right is her most endearing and important quality, and where her character thrives.

For all of it’s excellence, Alita fails when it comes to adapting the manga to a movie format. The source material is far too intricate to easily format into two hours, although it tries. The movie jumps too quickly between action scenes and expects the audience to follow along, despite very little emotional investment. A problem arises in the film and then just as quickly gets resolved just to move the story along. The structure is not effective in allowing us to connect to Alita’s emotional story arch.

The movie would have done much better to focus more earnestly on a single story line instead of trying to pack the first four manga into the film.

By the end of the 2 hours, it’s hard to be as excited for Alita’s victories precisely because of the frentic pace of the narrative. Too much happens without a clear motivation for Alita and it’s, frankly, exhausting as an audience member.

The weakest plot points, however, center around two characters, Hugo (Keean Johnson) and Chiren (Jennifer Connelly). These two characters seem more like asides in an overly packed script. Chiren’s actions don’t drive the plot along and her character is not relatable enough for the audience to care. The story really tries to create impact with Hugo as a love interest, probably to appease the teen demographic, but Alita flourishes under solitude. Her strength comes from how singular she is in her own world. I found the love story the least believable aspect of the narrative, the movie could have done without it entirerly and still maintained its strength.

Overall, I recommend this movie to those who are interested in watching a movie that is at the cutting edge of modern day movie magic and those looking for a fun time at the theaters. Alita’s quest for identity is sure to go over well with teenagers as well as parents.

For what it’s worth, Alita manages to create a strong world in Iron City with a strong female character in Alita- even if the screenplay adaptation, ultimately, left much to be desired.

J+M+J

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