Alita Battle Angel is the latest manga adaptation brought to western cinema. With a talent packed cast and James Cameron attached as a producer overseeing Sin City director Robert Rodriguez, I had every reason to be excited for this film. The trailers hadn’t intrigued me much into the premise, but I was keen to see what this impressive talent pool could produce.
First things first, huge shout out to Weta Digital, who have outdone themselves with the special effects work on this film. Alita herself is incredibly detailed, fully animated and absolutely flawless from start to finish. There is a hefty load on the special effects team in this film, with so many cyborg/mech suited people in close proximity and fighting together it could easily begin to look like a well polished video game cut scene. It never does, and the work they’ve done here is simply magical stuff. Each action scene is shot well, and director Robert Rodriguez deserves credit for combining the effects and action so well.
Alita, being the title character, is very much the driving force in the film, and huge credit goes to Rosa Salazar for her performance. It is fully motion capture, and she gives a performance the legendary Andy Serkis would be very proud of. Her performance may be brought to life by the magicians at Weta, but she still has to bring her A game to make this work and she does just that. Backing her up, and the next best in the movie for me, is Christoph Waltz, who has a voice that is so distinctive I think I’d enjoy him reading a dictionary. His characters relationship with Alita was the most endearing part of the film to me, with their dynamic playing out like a typical Father/Teenager at times.
The rest of the cast is certainly not bad, but nobody is remarkable. Keean Johnson is a newcomer to me, and plays love interest Hugo. He is fine, but the connection between them felt a little rushed and even if it did at times surprise me with where it went, I think this could have been handled better and would have added more emotion to the final act of the film. This films biggest crime for me is the use of talents Jennifer Connelly and Mahershala Ali. The former is very much a side character, who does have an air of intrigue and a decent arc, but not one I felt any connection or investment in. It happened, but I didn’t care either what the outcome of her arc was.
As for Mahershala Ali, he is one of my favourite actors right now, and he is criminally under utilised as the antagonist of the film. We saw in the first season of Luke Cage how intense a performance he can bring to a villainous character, but here he isn’t given the licence to own the screen like he can. He is good in the film, but he isn’t given enough. There are several minutes of the 2 hour run time that we spend with Alita going from place to place, developing the love story element of the film that didn’t really work for me. I would have much rather spent this time understanding Ali’s motivations and what he sees as his role in this enticing world.
That brings me onto my favourite part of Alita, the world building and lore we are given. I often find this type of setting, with one city raised (both literally and socially in this case) above the doldrums, to be a bit cliché and boring. Think Hunger Games, but with more intrigue around the upper class world. The fact this is set 500 hundred years into the future allows for as much creative licence as you could want with regards to production design, and I found the restraint when it comes to the humans costume designs contrasted really well with the cyberpunk designs of the cyborgs and mech suits we see. The technology of the world is futuristic but lived in, and it works really well in my opinion. All this on top of the intrigue around Alita’s past makes me very keen to see more from the world this franchise has introduced.
Alita is a really entertaining film to watch, and if you get your head round the lore and find yourself hooked in by the world you will really enjoy the film. The antagonist is under developed, and the sequel baiting is obvious from about half hour into the film, but I think there is a lot to enjoy about Alita Battle Angel.
Good: Amazing special effects, brilliant world building, great main character, even if she has a superman like problem by the end.
Bad: Love interest didn’t work for me (may well for you) and an underused special weapon in Mahershala Ali.
7/10 – Solid start for the franchise, I hope we get to see more.