I read Battle Angel: Alita back in the early nineties when the market in the west finally opened up to the wonders of Japanese sequential art story telling. Dark Horse rode the crest of the wave and translated a ton of books. I remember walking into the old Outer Limits store in Braamfontein and just browsing through all the amazing sci-fi books featuring these wide-eyed characters. I wasn’t the only one entranced by Alita and her journey to figuring who she was and why she was so deadly – James Cameron immediately bought the rights to make a film based on the manga. Unfortunately, by the time the tech caught up to his vision, he was too busy with the Avatar sequels. In stepped Robert Rodriguez who approached Cameron to take over the film and thank goodness he did.
The film follows the manga closely – Dr. Ido finds a cyborg core in a junkyard and rebuilds her. The mysterious cyborg has no memory but has unbelievable combat skills. Through her journey we learn more about Alita’s past just as she uncovers more about Dr. Ido and the truth behind the floating city of Zalem and the lower-class city, and on the ground, Iron City. While the film follows the manga as closely as possible, it does try to cram far too much story into it’s near two hour run time. We get Ido finding Alita, Alita learning about this new world (the orange scene is particularly charming), Alita falling in love and then finding out who she is and why she is so deadly. Oh yeah, there is also a love story crammed in there as well as a sub-plot involving Ido and his ex-wife, her role in the sport of Motorball with the villain of the film and finally the unveiling of the actual villain of the story.
Things move at such a pace that it feels forced, in a familiar refrain in this day of prestige TV, the film and story may have been better served by a six-hour TV series rather than a two-hour film. The central story is clear enough, but it is muddied by all the other threads. The relationship and love story between Alita and Hugo, a non-augmented human, just doesn’t ring true. Her naivete leads to their meeting, but her falling in love with him almost immediately is too convenient for the plot. His role in Alita’s awakening is also a convenient plot contrivance, he just happens to know of a place with a crashed ship that she recognises and feels drawn to. His role is simply to move the plot along.
[Rosa Salazar] brings a humanity and believability to the world, especially when she experiences things for the first time.
As always, James Cameron is at his best when creating fantastical worlds...
Grumpy Old Man who still collects toys (THEY. ARE. NOT. DOLLS), PC Gamer lured to the Dark Side of console gaming, comic book reader and fan of all things pop culture.
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8 February 2019
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