Alita: Battle Angel – a review by Dan
This last Sunday I was able to take in the film Alita: Battle Angel at the local AMC. I am not, at all, an expert on the Manga or any other adaptations of this film. But I felt I’d give my thoughts on it regardless as a fan in general of sci-fi and other anime properties.
I’ve certainly found myself a fence sitter when it concerns “live action” adaptations of some comics/manga or what had previously been animated features. With the level of CGI work and animation going on in film at an all time high (you can look that up if you don’t believe me, I bet you won’t) and I make that claim on the back of Jame’s Cameron’s involvement in this film. Cameron’s without a doubt skillful use of that medium not only setting the bar but setting it highly, we are still basically just watching a cartoons with people peppered into it. That was still certainly the case with this film and wonderfully rendered cartoon at that. Even if Cameron had nothing to do with the end result besides his screen writer credit, his presence and involvement would lead me to believe that their is a level of quality to a film like this that is raised to as high of an industry standard as we can hope for, otherwise we might find ourselves staring down the barrel of another DBZ live action regret.
Weta Workshop, or more accurately Weta Digital, had its fingers in this film as well, I noticed in the credits and that alone almost always leads to something practical along with something so convincing in cgi form that it may as well have had been practical effects. I really can’t praise that company enough, I’d go to work with them just sweeping floors just to be around what they do. I’m not to proud that I won’t fanboy at the guys on the convention circuit when I pass by their booth. Also I may have to revise or even go so far as to redact this ENTIRE paragraph because I’m not entirely sure how Weta Workshop and Weta Digital are connected other than Weta in their name but I stand by the practice of visiting them! Also, Weta Workshop does have some toys for Alita on their website, you can google-fu that on your own. (I believe they will be at ECCC again this year and if you don’t stop by their booth or go to their panels on make up and design work you’ve done yourself a disservice.)
Some of the brief reviews or discussions I’ve overheard spoke to the fact that our protagonist, Alita, played by Rosa Salazar, is entirely a CGI character. There seems to be a hang up by some folks about the uncanny valley aspect of CGI characters in “live action” films that just doesn’t let their sense of disbelief be suspended long enough to really get into a feature length film. I found this just the opposite for a change. I think the choice to having our hero Alita be entirely and clearly not human, worked as a boon for me. I never felt like the character or the actor had to oversell the role at any point. She’s not human, she doesn’t look human: on with the story. Salazar’s work on motion capture aided by animation and her voice acting were on point, from the emotional feely bits to the extreme ass-kickery.
Another thing I appreciated about the choices the producers made for this film was their choice in Director. Robert Rodriguez has earned my trust over the years with his film adaptations of print medium. He has run the gambit so to speak on campy fun to violence exploitation but I’m led to believe that he wants to stay utterly true to the theme of the base material he is adapting, I get he feeling that he is a fan, and it shows in his work. Whether it was Predators or Sin City, and now in Alita, he clearly well researched and stayed true to the tone and ideas built up in previous works.
There really was only one or two hick-ups that pulled me out of the film at any point, the some what clumsy use and fate of Hugo and I felt that had far to many “I knew it moments!” which kind of left me feeling dissatisfied by the end with his character’s arc. It also seemed a bit of shame that Jennifer Connolly was somehow under utilized as a foil for Christoph Waltz fatherly showmanship as Dr. Dyson Ido. Both of these actors were absolutely fine in their roles but into the final act it seems like their screen time became squandered in a rush to keep the run time shorter.
There was another jump cut in the film that also left me feeling like we might have had two pages turned over on us as well that made my brain do a logic hiccup. Otherwise, I felt the editing to be pretty tight and not a distraction in the vein of the Transformers franchise has been, which seems to be a go to for Hollywood sci-fi/action, the “must go faster” works coming from Jeff Goldblum but is awful advice in the editing room. We get to linger once in a while and see some city-scapes that are really something to behold and something I think Yukito Kishiro and his cyberpunk comic vision should be proud of.
The film closes with something of an open ending not terribly unlike the sci-fi masterpiece that was the first of the Matrix films. They could certainly end it here and on a high note at that, but if it brings in sufficient capital I’d wager we’ll see another film come along in a few years. But who is to say without time and box office returns.
I’d give it a strong 4 our of 5 stars. Having never read much of the base material as a measuring stick. I don’t think that anyone who did read the manga should let that keep them from the cinema and if you’ve never read it before, I’m sure I can help you get a copy… but also, don’t let that stop you. In fact I think I might give it a go myself as my interest is more piqued now than it had been previously.