There’s a lot going on in Alita: Battle Angel, with class warfare, a mysterious past, a conspiracy plot, a teen romance, a detour into a Speed Racer-esque take on roller derby called “Motorball”, glimpses of a war on the moon, and more rolled into two hours.
A long-gestating project based on Yukito Kishiro’s ’90s manga Gummn, the film is set in the poverty stricken Iron City, which sits below another city, the upper-class paradise Valem. The setting is familiar but spectacularly rendered – emphasising the divide between the world’s upper- and underclasses – and it’s here where Cameron’s influence is felt the most. The world feels lived-in, so much so that the promise of a sequel inspires excitement rather than an eyeroll.
While some of her supporting cast are flat (though entertaining) caricatures, Alita feels far more real than we could have anticipated based on the early looks at her uncanny appearance (in fact, the big eyes are good actually). Salazar is a great anchor for the movie’s madness, playing Alita with an earnestness that feels counter to what you’d expect of a strong heroine with a forgotten, tragic past.While the plot itself isn’t exactly something to write home about, the sincerity with which it’s told is infectious. Ridiculous characters (example: McTeague, The Dog Master) appear then disappear, and details of the world can get lost among new discoveries and exposition. But what remains clear is the action – thrilling, cartoonish and shot with utmost precision, never disappearing into a mess of CGI goop despite its abundant use.
Alita: Battle Angel is the first big surprise of 2019, a gorgeous, entertaining cyberpunk spectacle that stands as one of the best live-action adaptations of manga on the big screen, lovingly replicating its lavish backdrops, emotive movements and wild character designs.
CAST: Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Ed Skrein, Jackie Earle Haley, Keean Johnson
DIRECTOR: Robert Rodriguez
WRITERS: James Cameron, Late Kalogridis
SYNOPSIS: Set several centuries in the future, the abandoned Alita is found in a scrapyard by Ido, a compassionate cyber-doctor who takes the unconscious cyborg Alita to his clinic. When Alita awakens, she has no memory of who she is, nor any recognition of the world she finds herself in. As Alita learns to navigate her new life and the treacherous streets of Iron City, Ido tries to shield her from her mysterious past.