“Alita: Battle Angel” was hugely enjoyable, becoming a far better film the more I have thought about it in the weeks since I first saw it. A really pleasant surprise considering some of the unjust negative criticism that it has been receiving, some even before it was released. I was sceptical and expected that it would be another sub-par live action manga adaptation. Yes it is not a perfect film, but James Cameron and Robert Rodriguez really did get far more right than not.
“Alita: Battle Angel” is based on the manga “Gunnm” (aka Battle Angel Alita) created by Yukito Kishiro, originally published between 1990 and 1995, with the first two of the nine volumes being adapted into an anime in 1993. Bringing this live action adaptation to the big screen has been a labour of love for James Cameron for a number of years, and this love is apparent from the very first scenes of the film. He has held the film rights to the manga over those years but was waiting until the technology was there to realise his vision. Initially he was going to direct the film himself, however, due to his involvement with the “Avatar” sequels he was not in able to. Instead he handed over directing to Robert Rodriquez. A decision that has actually been to the benefit of the film as the combination of their differing styles works beautifully, with Rodriguez bringing a far more grittier feel at times than maybe Cameron would have. Certainly his style can be felt in the visceral, exciting, and at times quite brutal, action scenes. The film still has some of the tropes that is expected from a Hollywood blockbuster, but both bring the unique edge to it that they individually brought to many of their own films over the years. It is never over sentimental but does have heart and soul to it, although they were not afraid to give it the dark aspects that the story requires.
Only James Cameron and Robert Rodriguez could have pulled off “Alita: Battle Angel“, feeling that they took adapting the source material as faithfully as possible very seriously. James Cameron, with the depth and complexity he brings to many of his films, and Robert Rodriguez, with his unique style, really do make for a perfect match. Both are really passionate about making films that are first and foremost entertaining, which “Alita: Battle Angel” is. Maybe the best way to give an idea of what to expect is that this is conceivably the film they would make if they adapted “Pinocchio” as a sci-fi action film, but even that does not come close to describing it.
The cast is absolutely superb, with Rosa Salazar in her first lead role holding her own in the scenes with the far more experienced actors. She portrays the character of Alita perfectly with a beautifully engaging performance. Her scenes with Christoph Waltz are particularly heartfelt and moving, with his character having a back story that adds depth to their relationship. The standouts of the supporting cast are Jennifer Connelly, Ed Skrein, and Mahershala Ali, and a totally unrecognisable Jackie Earle Haley. Some of them do not have a great deal of screen time, but they make the very most of what they do have, bringing a depth that many other actors could not bring to the roles. Some of them take performance capture to the next level, with the CGI never overwhelming the dramatic aspects or the actors’ performances.
Although the film does have its faults it is still far from a soulless Hollywood blockbuster. The obvious love and respect James Cameron and Robert Rodriguez have for the original manga can be clearly felt in every frame of the film.
The source material stretches to nine volumes so there is huge scope for continuing the story, with the film being left open for sequels. The ending never feels contrived, unlike many universe building franchises. Happily it has been announced that there are plans for a second film in the future, and possibly more sequels. It really will be very interesting to see where the sequel takes the story and character.
“Alita: Battle Angel” is without a doubt among one of the best English language live action manga adaptations. Made by film-makers who understand and respect the source material, and how to adapt it for a Western audience. It is first and foremost entertaining, never boring, with just enough depth to engage the audience.
For those looking for something a little different to the usual Hollywood blockbusters, and those wanting the spectacle expected from those films it is highly recommended. However, it really does need to be seen on the big screen.
Having had my expectations exceeded, I am genuinely excited about the sequel.