All words: The Dirty Mexican
Robert Rodriquez’s latest offering is pretty much his best Hollywood outing since the first Sin City. The first one. Not the horrible dumpster turd that was Sin City: A Dame To Kill.
“Alita: Battle Angel” is an adaption of a beloved series manga comics called s Gunnm, but also known as Battle Angel Alita, written by the revered Yukito Kishiro. Many a manga fan will probably say this film adaptation falls right into the category of “Sucky Live Action Adaptation Of A Manga/Anime” but I have not read the source material, so I can’t comment on this.
Instead, I will break down what I loved about this spectacular visual thrill feast of what could be one of the best blockbusters of 2019.
The year is 2563. The abandoned and seemingly destroyed female cyborg Alita is found in the dump of Iron City by Ido Dyson, a compassionate cyber-doctor/engine who retrieves the unconscious Alita and returns to his clinic to repair and give her a new cyber body. Alita awakens to discover she has no memory of her past life but quickly discovers through the many adventures she takes on in the films 125-minute runtime that she is no ordinary cyborg.
Animes & Manga Adaptations = Bad:
Many of us have seen the Ghost in The Shell, Aeon Flux, Dragonball Evolution and Death Note films, all of which were adapted from Japanese anime and/or manga. While Ghost in the Shell just about scrapped the barrel of being average, Aeon Flux, Dragonball and Death Note were laughable attempts at both adaptations of their source materials and just movie-making in general.
Those are just a few examples of terrible adaptations of beloved Japanese manga comics and their Anime counterparts. Usually, fanboys and general audiences avoid these films like the plague and perhaps this is why Alita: Battle Angel was moved to a February release from that of a Christmas holiday release. Perhaps the distributors were afraid of putting yet another manga adaptation on the circuit around the holidays for fear of it underperforming?
Let’s get back to the film we’re here to talk about though. Alita: Battle Angel is by no means a terrible film. I do not know if it stands apart from other adaptations of manga/anime as an adequate or even great version of the manga, but I will say this. The film is fuckloads of visual candied fun.
Alita: Mo-Cap Angel:
Which brings me to my next point. The film is visually outstanding. From the beautifully crafted cityscape of the junkyard metropolis of Iron City to the awe-inspiring motion-captured facial expressions of Alita, played by the talented Rosa Salazar to the badass design of the killer cyborgs, this film is truly wondrous to behold. The technology used to create Alita’s anime-sized eyes once again proves why James Cameron’s stable of filmmakers is so talented.
Jon Landau, producer of Alita as well as box-office giants such as Titanic and the oh-so-overrated Avatar (we’ll get into this another time), at a 21st-Century Fox Press screening in New Zealand casually stated that just one of Alita’s eyes possesses more detail than all of Gollum’s entire being in The Hobbit films. Furthermore, Joe Letteri, Weta Senior VFX Supervisor who worked closely with Cameron on Alita explained:
Gollum’s eyes, well “those eyes, we just painted them,” Letteri says. Years later, Weta had a chance to really get things right in Alita.
“If you look at a real eye it’s actually not just a flat surface. “There’s layers there. So you try to build the layers and you think, that’s really still too simple, what’s really going on is there’s these fibers that are all intertwined.”
Gollum’s eyes used 50,000 digital polygons. Alita’s, by contrast, have 9 million polygons in just one iris — the rendering is exponentially more precise. VFX Supervisor Eric Saindon spoke with @vulture on #Alita. https://t.co/74ZOJ1wYTc
— Weta Digital (@weta_digital) December 18, 2018
This tremendous visual feat aside, when the initial trailer for Alita dropped back in 2018, many fans of the manga and the unwashed masses were not too happy with just how big and creepy the titular character’s eyes were. The Weta team listened, adjusted and created a CGI character via groundbreaking motion capture technology that was, to me and many other press members who attended the screening last week, far more human than some of the human actors/characters in the film.
The film boasts some big Hollywood names. From Christoph Waltz’s endearing yet exposition-laden Dr Dyson, Jennifer Connolly’s cold & almost robotic Chiren to the ever-popular Mahershala Ali’s Vector, Alita: Battle Angel’s cast alone must have cost a pretty Hollywood penny.
That being said, most of these actors didn’t really get any moments to show off their acting chops. Mahershala Ali’s vector was a lack-lustre villain, and Connolly’s Chiren seemed more CGI than that of Salazar’s motion-captured Alita. Other notable names include Ed Skrein as Zapan, a Cyborg bounty hunter who provided some pretty hilarious comic relief and Jackie Earle Hayley’s Grewishka, who was almost unrecognisable as a giant cyborg.
Man of the match for worst performance has to go to Keean Johnson’s Hugo who is Alita’s love interest. Johnson’s performance came off as a CW special, and while there were countless cheesy moments in the film, his were by far the most cringe-worthy.
he film has some genuinely cheesy lines. However, at one stage the main character does kinda break the fourth wall after delivering a laughably cringy line by stating that she was kinda intense,” so perhaps it’s great that the film is self-aware to its cheddar moments.
Where Alita: Battle Angel really shines is within it’s myriad of breathtaking set-pieces. Each fight scene will make you want to rewind when the Blu-Ray is released. From Alita battling it out with some sadistic cyborgs to the giant tank-like Centurions to the Motorball (An extreme sport) sequences, this Manga adaptation’s action setpieces are fucking badass.
In A Nutshell:
All in all, Alita: Battle Angel is not a groundbreaking sci-fi romp. It probably isn’t the anime adaptation we deserve either, but it definitely will go down as one of the best sci-action blockbusters of 2019. Barring many a cheesy moment, loads of exposition and almost too much story crammed into one film, Alita: Battle Angel is a visual feast, with an outstanding performance from a CGI- mo-cap character, a great cast – despite most of them being underused – with some of the best action I’ve seen from a film of this nature in years. I would recommend visiting the local Imax beyond the boerewors curtain in Brackenfell at Cape Gate to see it or if that’s too far, take a drive to Canal Walk and behold it upon the 4K Laser, Scene Extreme cinema at Nu- Metro.
MYCITYBYNIGHT RATING: 7/10
Check out the trailer for Alita: Battle Angel here: