ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL
Director: Robert Rodriguez
Producer: James Cameron, Jon Landau
Cast: Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Ed Skrein, Jackie Earle Haley, Keean Johnson
UK Distributor: 20th Century Fox UK
Genre: Sc-Fi | Cyberpunk | Action • Year: 2019 • Country: US • Running Time: 122 minutes • Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1 | 1.90:1 (IMAX version: some scenes) • Image: Colour • Language: English • Rating: 12A
It was back in 2003 that James Cameron first confirmed he would direct a film based on Yukito Kishiro’s acclaimed cyberpunk manga series, Gunnm (Gun Dream) – more commonly known as Battle Angel Alita – though it was a project that was soon put on hold due to Cameron’s commitments on Avatar and sat in development limbo for nearly 15 years, before Cameron and co-producer Jon Landau eventually handed over the directorial reins to Robert Rodriguez (who was initially been brought in to condense and refine the shooting script).
The resulting picture is an audacious, effects-driven yarn in the classic sci-fi/adventure vein, making the most of the latest digital technologies – and a visionary production team – to deliver an often dazzling popcorn flick that bursts at the seams with extraordinary, big-budget visuals and immersive, cutting edge sound.
Though at its core, however, Alita: Battle Angel is ultimately a rather tender and engaging coming-of-age tale set within the sprawling post-apocalyptic metropolis of Iron City in the year 2563, following a devastating space war known as ‘The Fall’.
Somewhat unsurprisingly the film centres around the naive and wide-eyed young Alita – a discarded and disembodied female cyborg, rescued from the scrapheap and brought back to life by Christoph Waltz’ kindly cyborg scientist Dr. Dyson Ido – and the journey that then ensues as the innocent and curious young teen both navigates her way in the big wide world and attempts to piece together the fragmented memories of her past life.
Though this big wide world is one in which crime and violence run riot, where registered Hunter-Warriors track down wanted assassins for the bounties, where the wealthy reside in the floating sky city of Zalem, raised high above Iron City, and where cyborgs compete in the brutal sport of Motorball for the chance to be sent up to Zalem.
Alita may be light on some of the more complex, scientific themes and ideas that drive many of its key influences (Ghost in the Shell, Blade Runner, and Metropolis, to name just a few), but what it lacks in complexity and depth it more than makes up for in the warmth and heart that Rodriguez and Cameron manage to inject into the piece. Rosa Salazar excels as Alita in an exceptional motion capture performance, and the intimate father-daughter sequences between Alita and Waltz’ Ido (a character that lies somewhere between Geppetto and Frankenstein) are brilliantly executed, as are those with Keean Johnson as Alita’s love interest, Hugo.
Alita: Battle Angel is far from perfect and does feel surprisingly timid from time to time, though as immersive, blockbuster entertainment goes, Rodriguez and Cameron’s action packed epic proves a fun and thrilling new addition to the sci-fi canon.