Alita: Battle Angel (2019)

Alita: Battle Angel (2019)

February 10, 2019

I will not stand by in the presence of evil

The near 30 year old anime, originally titled Gunnm, written by Yukito Kishiro, has made it to our IMAX 3D screens.

For those who have somehow avoided the trailers and existing reviews, the story line for Alita revolves around an abandoned 300 year old cyborg. Discovered by Daisuke Ido (played by the ever charismatic Chrisopher Waltz) in the scrapyard of the trash thrown down from the floating city Salem, Alita is remade by Ido, effectively reborn as a tennage girl with no memory and a seemingl innocence that quickly gives way to her realisation that her past had her be something much more lethal then Ido led her to believe.

As we follow Alita through her coming-of-self to be a 'Battle Angel’, we are thrown into a cyperpunk world, where guns are outlawed and criminals are hunted by bounty hunters, licensed mercernaries, often enhanced with lethal cyborg modifications. And with an early introduction to Alita’s love interest Hugho, he tells her,

it’s a harsh world. The strong pray on the weak down here.

And with Hugo increasingly exposing to Alita to the darker side she realises she revels in, the story dips into her moment as a Motorball player whilst raising the stakes with her problematic position of having a bounty on her, set by Vector (played by the BAFTA winning Mahershala Ali) for besting his no 1. Grewishka and with instruction from his superior.

The story remains fairly faithful to the original story arc, though for those a fan of the comic, may find that it lulls on the embellished Motorball contest. Whilst without doubt the scenes become a visual spectacle for us viewers, it’s over heightened sensory session, quickly gives way to wanting to the game to end and get back to Alita interacting with the other casts. It’s here we find the true beauty of Alita. Her innocence and charm, whilst confident and assured in herself, she teases, mocks and battles many of the characters in the film with a tone that sees us still reeling from her transistion from the girl who delights in oranges (without the skin!) to a deadly berserker assassin and then back! Though there is some sense that the audience is truly always seeing Alita as a �cute� heroine due to her overly large eyes!

Her features offer the notion of 'Uncanny Valley', where the observer feels a little unsettled seeing a humanoid robot as realistically human. At times, it’s easy to forget that Alita is a CGI character. Alita: Battle Angel is without doubt one of the most triumphant feats of modern CGI. James Cameron’s Avatar pushed the boundaries back then so it’s no surprise 10 years on we see radical improvments in the field. Zapan (Ed Skrein who seems to have continued his acting style from Deadpool as Francis) is particularly impressive with his full cyborg body. The 3D effects come of more polished then most, where actions avoid needless scenes just to have the audience placated, but rather, we find the parts of scenery overlay around the edges, the cheering crowd in the Motorball feel they are standing in front of you, and Grewishka grind cutters generally feel weighted and threatening as they reach out. An aspect that the comic book heavily emphasised.

For those familiar with the director Robert Rodriguez’s work (if not, get out there and make it so), the choreographed fighting scenes should appease you and certainly gives a gentle flashback to the bar-brawl from Dusk till Dawn!

But the praises end there. As a fan of the comic, and anime in general, it’s understandable to have a sense of child friendliness to the film, but to cotton wool the project took away the grit that the comic oozes. The embellished love interest, and character interactions, with immature dialogues especially between Hugho and his friends, gives a sense that life is good Iron City. Decapitations and dismemberments become comical and the violence from the comic is subdued. It fails to deliver on the desparation felt by the citizens of subjugated city, with the background extras wearing colourful clothes and happy expressions. Chemistry between Hugo and Alita seems non-existent, forced and distant from the tit-a-tat portrayed within the comic, and if one dares, feels that the character of Hugo was miscast (Keean Johnson), and perhaps would have benefited from a more joyful Asian actor such as Li YiFeng (Animal World - 2018)

With a fairly large percentage of time spent with the Motorball, for those who have know of it, one is left reminiscing for the original 1975 film of Rollerball, starring James Caan for most of it’s duration, and this sense of familariliarity continues with Zalem reminding of the not so impressive Elysium. That said, this is an adaptation of a 30 year old comic so it’s grounding, and being akin to Ghost in the Shell which the comic debut only a year earlier, are to be mildly forgiven.

There’s certainly a grandiose feeling to Alia: Battle Angel, and it’s ending offers hope there is a continuation of the story. Here’s hoping it continues to find success, to encourage the growth of the Cyperpunk era and furtherings of anime adapations.

You told me the story of the war when the ground shook and the sky burned. Of the ones that survived who awoke to a differed world, where the powerful can prey on you. But that’s not the way it has to be.

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6 Loves

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