by Edward Baillargeon
When two well-respected directors decide to collaborate on a project, it can be really exciting two great filmmakers come together for one unique vision. This film turns out to be an interesting case because the styles of its two visionaries are vastly different. On one hand, writer and producer James Cameron is known for his grandiose technology pushing blockbusters like Avatar, Titanic, and the first two Terminator films. But on the other, director Robert Rodriguez has coined the name of the “one man crew” by saving money on his works by doing most of it himself with films like Sin City, Spy Kids, and Desperado. So it was interesting to see Robert Rodriguez to be put in charge of a big budget blockbuster to bring to life James Cameron’s passion project 20 years in development, Alita: Battle Angel.
Based on the manga Battle Angel Alita by Yukito Kishiro, the film takes place in 2563 when a cyborg girl named Alita awakens with no memory of who she is as she is taken in by Dr. Dyson Ido, a compassionate doctor who realizes that somewhere in this abandoned cyborg shell is the heart and soul of a young woman with an extraordinary past. But it’s only when the deadly and corrupt forces that run Iron City come after Alita that she discovers a clue to her past of unique fighting abilities that those in power will stop at nothing to control. If she can stay out of their grasp, she could be the key to saving her friends, her family and the world she’s grown to love.
Alita: Battle Angel was a real pleasant surprise of a sci-fi film and an excellent addition to both Cameron and Rodriguez’s filmographies. Combining Cameron’s visual spectacle and Rodriguez’s style, they created a great film. Right from the get go, you are immersed in the world of Iron City as a dystopian city filled with crime, and surrounded by a WALL•E esque scrapyard. Another intriguing part of the film’s world that plays a key role in the story is the sport of Motorball, a battle royale race where cyborgs fight to the death. With the film’s story, this could be the first time a Hollywood adaptation of a manga or anime is actually respecting fans of the source material in its faithfulness instead of going off the rails like previous failures like Dragon Ball: Evolution or Netflix’s Death Note.
The visual effects of this film are stunning, as to be expected with anything under James Cameron’s name also made it a must see in IMAX 3D. The movie has plenty of CGI but also makes use of some practical effects like some of the sets. The visuals also provide some fantastic action sequences that are really intense and leave you on the edge of your seat. And the action is REALLY brutal for a PG-13 rated film as various cyborgs fight and die in various creative ways and having blue blood instead of red is an added bonus for keeping that rating. One other great decision that this movie makes compared to other action movies is the refraining use of guns, like many action films, by making guns outlawed in the film’s universe.
It is not just the film’s world that is fascinating as its inhabitants and characters do help to carry this feature. Rosa Salazar gives a fantastic performance as Alita. Even through her motion capture visual effects, machine parts, and oversized anime like eyes, she brings a sense of wonder and determination to her character making the audience root for her as she goes through her arc of self-discovery. Many of the other supporting players, human and cyborg, do a good job in their respective roles like Academy Award winners Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, and Mahershala Ali, as well as standouts from Ed Skrein and Jackie Earle Haley. Also be on the lookout for a couple of cameos from certain actors I’m not going to spoil.
If there are any criticisms I have with the film, they are relatively minor as the positives outweigh the negatives. First, some of the dialogue and relationship between Alita and her love interest Hugo did get corny at some points. And, without spoiling too much, the ending can be obviously trying too hard to set up a sequel. But with that point, I was invested in the story to where I am open to and want to see one as this is just only PART of a complete story. But where other films in cinematic universes that failed by focusing more on pandering fan service and overlong setups like Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice or Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, Alita focuses on being a contained story until the “ending” where it actually makes sense in the story.
Overall, Alita: Battle Angel is a fun and exciting sci-fi action film worth checking out. With a decent story, stunning visual effects, great performances, and intense action sequences that left me wanting more. If you are a fan of science fiction, anime, or love James Cameron & Robert Rodriguez’s previous works, then go check this film out. I’m going to give Alita: Battle Angel an 8/10.