Film Review: 'Alita: Battle Angel'
Alita: Battle Angel has been seemingly pitted against Captain Marvel in a debate over which is the best "strong female protagonist" of this year. The majority of critics have not liked Alita and will probably give rave reviews to Captain Marvel.
But should these movies even be directly compared or put into the thunderdome against each other like this? They're very different movies. Alita is fringe and edgy, underground, and for a mature audience. It's a cyberpunk, dystopian sci-fi adaptation of one of the most gruesomely violent (yet still somehow, oddly beautiful) manga in existence.
To compare that to Marvel's next "safe bet" action blockbuster movie seems incredibly tone deaf, only looking at superficial similarities. That is, both have female protagonists with superhuman powers. I don't like artificially pushing rivalry onto movies that come out at the same time - it's quite okay to like both. I'm giving you permission.
For anime and manga fans like me, Alita: Battle Angel is something longed for - an unflinching, uncompromising, beautiful live-action American adaptation. I would argue that we got a decent, better than the SJW witch hunter crowd would like to say we got movie out of 2016's Ghost in the Shell. But that movie was just glamorous spectacle, a series of pretty pictures. It felt like a fashion spread in a magazine themed around the original movie, with tidbits here and there based on Innocence and Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex.
Alita: Battle Angel is a much better adaptation than that, not shying away from the gritty, dark aesthetic of cyberpunk manga, but also giving us a hopeful and triumphant heroic, awesome little girl to root for. I haven't seen Captain Marvel yet, but I know I'll probably like it less than this one.
Alita is a female cyborg who doesn't remember her past. She was rescued from a junk heap by a doctor who specializes in fixing cybernetic humans. A boy named Hugo introduces her to a dangerous sport, Motorball. But the doctor who is raising her, Dyson Ido, is fearful for her safety and protective of her in a fatherly way.
She finds out that Ido is a "hunter-warrior", a bounty hunter. She decides that she wants to be a bounty hunter as well. It seems that violence is part of who she is. Ido wants her to stay away from it, but she feels drawn to fighting. At her Motorball professional debut, the guys at the top try to have Alita killed. She survives, realizing that going after the elites in her harshly stratified society is the only way to learn who she really is.
Alita: Battle Angel
20th Century Fox, Lightstorm Entertainmen, & TSG Entertainment; Distributed by 20th Century Fox[
James Cameron & Jon Landau
Screenplay by James Cameron & Laeta Kalogridis, Based on Manga by by Yukito Kishiro
Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Ed Skrein, Jackie Earle Haley, & Keean Johnson
2 hours, 2 minutes
The movie is never dull, always doing something interesting. Some people did not like Alita's character design with the CGI being used to give her large eyes. But when you actually watch the movie, you get used to it, and it makes sense because she's a cyborg - and her body is different even from most cyborgs in that world.
I like Alita because it's a cyberpunk story about challenging the social order from below, kind of like Aeon Flux. Lots of popular movies are about billionaire or otherwise seriously privileged heroes, so it's kind of refreshing to see a movie about a kid who rises up from the bottom of a scrap heap.
The heart of the movie is the conflict between Ido wanting to protect Alita, and Alita wanting to be a badass and fight bad guys by herself, unleashing her full potential as a force for good in the world. I think that's what made this movie emotionally powerful - otherwise it ran the risk of being another beautiful, but empty, spectacle, similar to Avatar. Although I felt that to get more of the beauty of the emotional impact of this story, it's probably best to read the original manga. But as adaptations go, this one is very great.
Rating for 'Alita: Battle Angel': 8/10
© 2019 Rachael Lefler