Movie review: Alita: Battle Angel

February 12, 2019

“ALITA: Battle Angel” is an adaptation of the Japanese cyberpunk manga by Yukito Kishiro that came out in 1990 and has a devoted fan base, including “Avatar” director James Cameron who now produces and co-writes it for the big screen, directed by Robert Rodriguez who previously directed “Spy Kids”, “From Dusk Till Dawn” and “Sin City”.

The movie is set in 2053 in a dystopian world after the apocalyptic Fall. It starts with Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz)  finding the broken Alita in a junkyard in Iron City. He then attaches her head to the cyborg body he had made for his own daughter before she died. When the newly assembled android wakes up, Ido calls her Alita, after his own daughter. Alita doesn’t remember anything from her past and starts exploring the new world around her.  

Iron City is in ruins and inhabited by the remnants of mankind. It lives under the last floating city called Zalem where the very rich lives. While out in the street, Alita meets a friendly guy, Hugo (Keean Johnson), who teaches her to how to play the sport called Motorball which she joins and where she quickly excelled.

The villain in the story are Vector (Mahershala Ali), who is actually possessed by a more evil Zalem character called Nova. Together with Dr. Chiren (Jennifer Connelly), they have a secret operation where they exploit some Motorball players to get body parts.

Alita gradually remembers her history as a courageous warrior from 300 years ago and she resolves to become a hunter warrior. This is actually a bounty hunter who fights evil elements, particularly the ruthless cyborg Grewishka (Jackie Earle Haley).

As Alita gets closer to discovering the truth about herself and Iron City, she finds herself fighting not only for her life but also for the lives of the people she has learned to care for, especially Hugo. Alita is a motion capture creation on screeen, just like Gollum in “Lord of the Rings”. There is an actual actress on whom she is based named Rosa Salazar, the Latina girl named Lucy in Netflix’ “Bird Box”. She is then digitally altered to bring Alita to life and the combination of Rosa’s performance with the CGI work is quite astonishing. The human actors give competent performances, including Connelly, Waltz and Johnson, but the real star of the movie is the eye-popping visuals, especially in the Motorball race.

“Alita” is so well-mounted on the big screen, with the robot designs quite imaginative.  We watched it on a regular screen but we’re sure it will be more spectacular on 3-D Imax, especially the rousingly staged climactic Motorball competition sequence which is full of adrenaline-pumping action scenes.

The movie is obviously an origin story that sets the stage for the titular heroine’s further adventures and clearly meant to be the start of a franchise. You can really feel that there will be a sequel, but that can only happen if “Alita” would really hit it big as a blockbuster world wide. It has yet to open in the U.S.A.