Based on the early 90s Japanese manga strip Ganmu – translated into English as Battle Angel Alita – and the 1993 animé (also known in English as Battle Angel Alita), this James Cameron-produced, Robert Rodriguez-directed film was originally announced way back in 2003, with Cameron set to direct. However, with James Cameron now seemingly invested in directing nothing but the Avatar sequels – potentially for the rest of his life, given his ambitious plans for a series of Avatar films that is still only one movie deep at this stage, more than a decade after the first was released – the reins passed over to Rodriguez, who has an excellent track record in working fast and under budget, even with effects heavy productions.
And Alita: Battle Angel really is a hugely effects heavy production. The central character – played by Rosa Salazar – is a marvel of motion capture and rarely offscreen. Though there was initial backlash when she was first spotted in trailers – her oversized eyes, paying homage to her look in the original Manga and animé, giving her an uncanny valley appearance – the effect does succeed in reminding you that Alita isn’t human in the film; in short, it does work.
The story of a discarded, amnesiac cyborg who’s discovered and rebuilt by a kindly doctor (which owes more than a little to another iconic manga – Astro Boy), Alita: Battle Angel manages to cover an awful lot in its two hour running time – perhaps a little too much for comfort, given that it ends before the final boss can be dealt with (and a sequel isn’t necessarily a given at this point, which would leave the story forever open ended).
The effects are pretty seamless, though there are times when the CGI is so all encompassing that it just becomes a bit of a dull mess. The performances generally excellent, especially from Rosa Salazar and the ever-reliable Christoph Waltz – but Jennifer Connelly is wasted in a thanklessly dull role and Ed Skrein once again (and as always) proves that he has the physicality and pretty face, but can’t act his way out of a paper bag. There are far too many antagonists and the aforementioned ultimate antagonist character, who’s played by a surprisingly big name considering the lack of screen time he gets, is just a little nebulous to be seen as a true threat.
The production design is superb, however, with an absolutely brilliant, genuinely impressive cyberpunk aesthetic that’s rarely been seen in such detail or with such vivid clarity outside of animé, manga or other comic books.
Overall, the issues that Alita has don’t do enough to dull its entertainment value, but it would probably have made more sense to cut back on the ground covered. It moves at a real clip, however, rarely allowing you to pause for breath – and the action is brilliantly shot and edited. It’s just a shame that it does start to feel a bit muddled by the end and is hurt somewhat by the lack of a truly satisfying climax. I’d be more than happy to see the story continue, however – I’d most definitely be up for seeing Alita kicking more ass in a sequel.
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