Alita: Battle Angel is an ambitious attempt at recreating an iconic manga that works better than most other live-action anime films.
Alita: Battle Angel, based on acclaimed manga series Gunnm, has a standard dystopian premise. A cyborg (Alita) is discovered at a scrap yard by a kindly doctor, who brings her back to life. Alita awakes with no memory of who or what she is. As she is given the tour of Iron World, we are also introduced to a dystopian world that we have seen so many times. It is ruled by a bunch of oppressive overlords who live in a utopian floating city. I can think of Elysium, Hunger Games, and Red Rising off the top of my head that fit this profile.
The world building is solid, if not spectacular. But as befitting a movie James Cameron was closely associated with, we are treated to some truly spectacular shots. Director Robert Rodriguez deserves credit for some of the most inventive action sequences in recent times. Watching Alita pirouetting into a battle stance before scything conventional bad guys with an iconic blade was pure comicbook bliss. Rosa Salazar, who plays the role of the eponymous Alita, gives a phenomenal performance, complimented nicely by a star cast that includes Christopher Waltz, Mahershala Ali and Jenniffer Connelly.
While I haven’t read the source material myself, I felt the movie had crammed in a lot of content that sometimes seemed superfluous. Over the course of the movie, Alita comes to grips with a new world, becomes a bounty hunter, falls in love, competes in Motorball, a deadly cyborg sport with seemingly random rules, and fights a LOT of bad guys (and girls), but unfortunately doesn’t have time to dig deeper into her past. The Motorball arc, which initially held promise, was surprisingly sidelined towards the end. The romance arc was tiresome and unoriginal. There was a scene where she quite literally offers her heart. I would have been a lot more interested in learning more about Zalem and Alita’s mysterious past.
Despite the awesome, but thoroughly flagrant buildup for a sequel, the ending felt a bit abrupt. Alita: Battle Angel is an ambitious attempt at recreating an iconic manga. While it may have fallen short of such a lofty goal, it delivers a rollerblades-powered thrill ride through some eye-popping cyberpunk spectacle. And, I have to admit that I am really intrigued for the second installation, particularly after the big reveal at the end, courtesy of a surprising and gratifying cameo.