James Cameron’s baby has finally arrived and it sure is good. Full of warmth and heart Robert Rodriguez ably crafts a fantastical world. Beautiful in all its devastation. A high-concept Sci-fi fantasy-romance that leaves you with a sense of awe and love for the world created. Alita (Rosa Salazar) is brutal, adventurous and loving – which is a strange combination that works.
The film uses its uncanny-valley-like nature as a charm and doesn’t shy away from existing in a world between live-action and visual effects, to this I commend the filmmakers. Reminiscent of films like Fritz Lang’s ‘Metropolis’, Ridley Scott’s ‘Blade Runner’ and Paul Verhoeven’s ‘Robocop’, it has that same mysteriously-futuristic dystopian vision but what it tackles is far different, it has a more childish-adventurous feel.
We find a broken Alita who doesn’t remember her past, Dr. Ido (Christoph Waltz) finds her in the middle of a rubbish dump. Ido fixes and replenishes her. Alita awakes and finds herself to be subconsciously agile and skilled but her memories are still patchy and slowly through flashbacks she remembers who she is. As the film goes on Alita finds her calling in an adventure to not be missed.
Based on the Japanese manga ‘Gunnm’ by Yukito Kishiro, Alita boasts anime-like eyes that are beyond distinctive. The stylised nature of her character design fits fantastically into Rodriguez’s futuristic landscape, if she were in the present you would hear people saying this is weird… But with all the body-less cyborgs there is no lack of absurdity, it really works. The manga shoots to life in this groundbreaking and innovative film that is perhaps the ‘Avatar’ of the decade.
Alita: Battle Angel is fueled by action and battle, with Alita’s inherent talent for a long-lost martial art called ‘Panzer kunst’, translated from German it reads ‘Armoured art’ – watching Salazar perform Alita’s specialised style you see exactly why the translation makes sense. The Iron City is essentially a refugee town, buzzing with lost culture and host to rumblings of non-English speakers. The German language can be heard frequently and is actually very important in certain ways, at the start Ido (played by the remarkable Christoph Waltz) seemingly is out of place in the steaming bucket of Americana-futurism with his European accent – but everything integrates and explains itself as it goes on.
The violence truly tests the limits of a 12A rating with bodies literally being sliced in half, squashed faces and additionally occasional swearing. But this all surrounds a film full of teenage innocence, it’s light and hopeful perhaps that’s how they get away with it. Perhaps not for children, but an ideal mix for teenagers. The dialogue is easy going with Cameron’s simplistic one liners, utilising on some cliches and tropes of the coming-of-age films before which perhaps is a weakness.
In all the spectacle and wonder there is a slight problem with some of the side characters, namely Vector (Mahershala Ali) and Chiren (Jennifer Connelly) whose schemes draw thin and underdeveloped. Essentially the best phrase to describe them in the film is ‘severely underutilised’, but the problems shine dimly as the glimmering qualities of excellence overshadow and its easy to look over them.
James Cameron’s vision is beautifully brought to life through Rodriguez’s sweeping direction and Salazar stuns as the curious and courageous Alita. It is a spectacle to not be missed, ambitious and delightful.