Quick Hit: Creative and expansive, sometimes to its own detriment.
Adopting movies from Manga and comics into motion pictures has always been a bit of a tricky business. Though both are visual mediums, one is largely “live action” while the other is obviously drawn art form. Some of this has been changing, with Disney leading the charge into a more CGI-driven world. This allows for a wider variety of things to be adapted. When you throw in the master of 3D, James Cameron, and a storyteller who is known for kinetic storytelling in Robert Rodriguez, the final effect is Alita: Battle Angel – an adapted manga that features a large-eyed protagonist and a huge story that is filled with a large amount of exposition.
The story begins with Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz) finding the pieces and head of an cyborg that he eventually resurrects using the body he had originally designed for his daughter. The result is Alita (Rosa Salazar) and she wakes up with a bit of amnesia, with only fragmented memories betraying her previous violent past. She was dumped from the sky city that is described as paradise into the Iron City dump. Why or how or by who is a question for additional films in a series that this movie seems convinced it warrants. Trying to stop some of the other evil cyborgs that roam the streets as part of a bounty hunting scheme is one portion of the plot, another is a romantic subplot that involves a guy who is doing some not so great things, and still another plot consists of a large explanation of the game of rollerball, which essentially seems to me like Death Race but on skates.
It’s an incredible amount of information, and the majority of the cast handles it deftly and makes it far more interesting than maybe it warrants (the background made me want to seek out the manga this was based on). But it’s Rodriguez and Cameron that do the majority of the convincing, because the digital world created around these characters is incredibly convincing. There’s a character who is essentially a head in a mechanized suit that I’m told by IMDB is played by Jackie Earle Haley. I would never have known it based on the digital creation of the character. Waltz gets maybe the least interesting character arc overall, as his motives don’t quite seem to line up with his actions, but hey – at least he gets to handle a freaking rocket-powered battle axe.
There’s a lot to like about the world that we’ve been dropped into – it’s striking and oddly beautiful at times. But the insistence to give us the background on just about everything – almost as if Cameron and Rodriguez knew that the likelihood of a planned sequel was unlikely, and they felt like the needed to shove 9 years of Manga into one 2 hour film – makes everything really, really messy. This is never more apparent than when we have Ido giving the backstory for himself and his ex-wife (Jennifer Connolly of all people) while also explaining the history of Iron City and its bounty hunting style. While I’ll never really complain all that much about listening to Waltz explain anything, it is a LOT of exposition. It also inevitably leads to certain storylines feeling less developed – like the aforementioned Waltz and his ex-wife.
So if you’re willing to go in with a turned off brain, you’ll probably find a lot to like about the film. But if you can’t suspend that gray matter, you’ll leave upset. I’m getting more and more efficient at doing the former, so I’m giving it a “B-“. A side note here - if you start watching a movie that has a giant-eyed protagonist who at times has her body ripped apart and keeps fighting anyway, and don't turn your brain off a bit... I'm concerned.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"