Was Alita: Battle Angel a testing ground for a system of three-dimensional high-resolution rendering of computer-animated main characters which will be central to the production of Avatar 2? If so, it looks like a huge success.
The film is a live-action(ish) version of Battle Angel Alita an early 90s Japanese manga series created by Yukito Kishiro, which was also converted into an anime series. It is set in a dystopian post-apocalyptic future and focuses on the story of a female cyborg who has lost her memory and is searching for her identity. On paper it’s right up my street, but I wasn’t that blown away by the trailer to be honest, and I said ‘live-action(ish)’ because a lot of what you see on screen is mo-cap computer animation which might put a lot of people off.
The film was directed by Robert Rodriguez (Sin City, Spy Kids), written by James Cameron (Avatar, Titanic, Terminator) – who also co-produced – and worryingly Laeta Kalogridis (who wrote top turkey Terminator Genisys). Rosa Salazar (Maze Runner) stars as the cyborg and there is some of her real face buried within the features of the big-eyed and largely generic ‘Manga girl’, with Christoph Waltz playing Doctor Dyson Ido and notably Jennifer Connelly playing his ex-wife.
The important bits of titular character Alita are found on a scrapheap by Ido who rebuilds her using the cybernetic body of his dead daughter and takes her under his wing. Alita begins to remember stuff from her past including a kick-ass martial art for cyborgs called Panzer Kunst. She signs up as a Hunter Warrior (bounty hunter) and also latterly enters Motor ball competitions.
The story of her origins slowly becomes clear and once Rodriguez has racked up a surprisingly violent body count for a 12A film it concludes rather weakly with a salute to lofty and largely unseen bad guy Ed Norton and a possible sequel.
The effects are great. The action sequences are well choreographed and don’t look like a fight in a cutlery drawer like the Transformers film tend to. At least in 2D. I didn’t bother watching in 3D because I feel it actually detracts from the enjoyment. I don’t think this is the same as people preferring vinyl to CDs, but if it is then whatev’s…
The story is pretty good if derivative of a bunch of other stuff, which I’ll mention shortly. Where the film fell down for me was the awful script. I’ve mentioned the writers. I was left wondering if they just decided that the axiom ‘show don’t tell’ no longer applied because they were writing a ‘kids film’.
As an example if Alita is offering someone her heart – literally holding it out to him, pulsing tubes and all – she doesn’t need to then say something like “I would do anything for you” (I forget the precise line because I was too busy cringing in embarrassment). I think the sentiment was pretty much evident from the offer of the heart.
Hey, this is like…
And now for as many similarities to other films I can think of, and of course here there be spoilers. I present them in increasing order of tenuousness:
Ghost in the Shell – the most obvious connection for me and understandable given the story’s Manga origins. The idea of a female cyborg who is hard as nails, living in a city populated by cyborgs and humans, and wondering if she can be seen as human is at the heart of both these stories. The TV versions also heavily featured spider-like battle tanks, but i guess they’re prevalent in a lot of Japanese animations. Also the idea of hacking a live feed of someone’s eyes was a big deal in The Laughing Man.
A.I. Artificial Intelligence – cyborgs rubbing shoulders with humans on more or less equal terms and the Pinocchio themes that run through Alita are very much evident in the first half of this flawed masterpiece.
Blade Runner – dystopian future populated by bounty hunters anyone?
Rollerball – Motor ball or whatever it’s called in the film is basically a rehash of the violent ultra-sport in the classic 1975 sci-fi film.
District 9 and Elysium – if it wasn’t for the fact that Neill Blomkamp’s spacecraft floating above South African slums and the idea of ascending to a utopian city in the sky are quite derivative in the first place, I’d expect him to be saying ‘Hey! I already did that!’ at the screen when he sees the first act of Alita.
The Fifth Element – a kooky kick-ass woman with amnesia (sort of) turns out to be a lot more than she appears.
Chappie – robot (not a cyborg I know but come on) gets befriended by a criminal gang. Okay tenuous I know, but hey…
Pacific Rim – rocket-assisted punch versus rocket-assisted battle-axe.
Wall-E – it’s set in the future and there’s a load of scrap. lol.
As we left the cinema, Biggles and I agreed that it was much better than Star Trek Beyond, so it had that going for it. Really it’s worth seeing just to see how advanced things have got with CG. And to be honest if in a few years I’m writing a post saying ol’ big eyes is back! then that would be fine…