One of most awaited for years manga adaptations came true in 2019, with Robert Rodriguez heading the project produced by James Cameron and Jon Landau, in an effort that resulted in huge commercial success, with “Alita” becoming the ninth highest-grossing film of 2019.
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As usually, and despite my urge to do so differently since the original was one of the first anime titles I ever watched, I will examine the film as a standalone work and not in comparison with the 1993 OVA.
The story is based in Yukito Kishiro’s manga, takes place in 2563, three hundred years after Earth has been devastated by a catastrophic interplanetary war known as “The Fall”, and revolves around the titular character, whose disembodied cyborg body is discovered by Dr Ido, as the film begins. Ido gives the body of his deceased daughter to the cyborg and even names her after her. Alita seems to have no recollection of her past, and in fact, seems to know nothing about the world she now inhabits. Eventually she meets Dr Chiren, Udo’s ex wife who is shocked to find her daughter’s body roaming the streets once more, and Hugo, a young man, who, as most of the inhabitants of the rundown place the story takes place in, dreams of moving to the wealthy city of Zalem, that overlooks the area from the sky. Hugo also introduces Alita to the sport of Motorball, a rather violent racing competition, where Dr Chiren, along with Vector, a shady entrepreneur with connections to the criminal world (particularly a mysterious man named Nova) run the show. As Dr Ido is revealed as something else than just a benevolent doctor, Alita highlights her knowledge of Panzer Kunst, a lost combat art for machine bodies, and the two of them embark on a totally different adventure, where Grewiska, a humongous cyborg serial killer, seems to be the main opponent. Expectedly, violence ensues.
Regarding the story, I would say that the film stays relatively close to the anime (oops) but has added a number of elements in order to reach 122 minutes (the original was 1 hour). And although the father-adopted daughter with the twist of the ex-wife/enemy them works well in terms of narrative, I would not say the same about the romantic aspect and the coming-of-age one, which seem to be there just to extend the duration and maybe draw the teen audience. On the other hand, the bounty hunters subplot, the Motorball, the relationship between Dr Chigen, Vector and Grewinska works quite well, providing a number of enemies for our heroes to fight and a series of quite interesting characters, like McTeague with his dogs or Zapan.
Furthermore, the aforementioned aspects benefit the most by the acting (or maybe better, casting) with Mahershala Ali as Vector and Jennifer Connely as Dr Chiren giving a star quality to the film, particularly with the coolness they portray their characters. Rosa Salazar is also quite good as Alita (although animated) while Christoph Waltz is great as always (and very fitting for the part) as Dr. Ido.
Of course, the focus of the film is on the action, and in that regard, I would say it works spectacularly (perhaps minus the complete lack of gore, since even blood is blue here), through a combination of anime style regarding the hand-to-hand combats (there are some impressive weapons though) and quite similar to “Ready Player One” aesthetics regarding the Motorball sequences. Add to that a “Ghost in the Shell” element with Nova’s ability to hack other’s peoples bodies and transfer his conscience, and you have the outline of the action aspect. In that respect, the combination of Bill Pope’s cinematography, Stephen E. Rivkin and Ian Silverstein’s editing, the impressive job done in the animation and the SFX, and the work of Steve Brown and the stunt team in the action choreography result in a quite impressive spectacle, with the technical aspect carrying the story till the open-for-sequel finale.
“Alita: Battle Angel” is a great action scifi/anime adaptation, that is bound to satisfy all fans of the genre.
Alita: Battle Angel is out on Digital Download on 12th July and on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray and DVD from 22nd July