“This is just a body. It’s not bad or good. That part’s up to you.”
Justin’s rating: Reboots often give you a soul. Ask Johnny Five.
Justin’s review: Accepting anime and manga with all of its strange visual distinctions and exaggerations is something I’ve made peace with. Not usually my cup of tea, but, fine, people kinda like it. Where I might draw the line is when people idolize anime so much that they start altering bodies to look more like them.
Enter Alita: Battle Angel, a movie that I wrote off for a while now as “that movie with the girl with freakishly abnormally large bug eyes.” I get that they’re trying to keep her hewn to her cartoon roots and all, but this is the sort of thing that crosses right over the uncanny valley and into my nightmares.
So why am I subjecting myself to two hours of bowling ball-sized pupils? Because I heard it was actually pretty good, with James Cameron and Robert Rodriguez involved in the project. I’ll show up for that.
It’s the 26th century, cyberpunk is all the rage, and a scientist named Dr. Ido discovers the remnants of a battle cyborg that he fixes up to look like his dead daughter. Because that’s a normal and healthy thing to do.
Newly awakened Alita-of-the-huge-peepers finds that she’s the object of interest by some sinister cybernetics organization while becoming fixated on the trendy sport of the day, motorball (which is kind of rollerball, skate park, and basketball dunking mixed together). So despite amnesia and parts without warranties, Alita becomes the cool kid of CoolTown. Well, Iron City.
Alita quickly establishes herself as both a great athlete and a “hunter-warrior” or somesuch. I think that the plot here doesn’t matter so much as giving this CGI creation every opportunity possible to be in an action scene. And also to make moony eyes at a teenage boy because yechh.
Alita: Battle Angel built up a bit of a cult following following its release, and I can see why. It’s kind of all over the place, but all of those places happen to be in a futuristic city teeming with cyborgs and robots. It’s a quite colorful cyberpunk movie with lots of creative machine designs and a nice change of pace from the usual dreary entries.
Good to see the talented Jennifer Connelly getting work in another genre film, too. She’s at that age that Hollywood likes to cast older women as villains, which is a shame because she’s still got great acting chops to go with her maturing beauty.
That said, it’s also plagued with plenty of tropes, one-dimensional characters, and predictable plotting. Just like most manga I’ve experienced, it’s a shallow pool with delusions of an ocean, and it’s going to pretend its hardest that you can go SCUBA diving in its depths. You buy into that, you’re going to conk your noggin.
It all hinges on whether or not you can really get behind its Mary Sue cybernetic hero who is, simultaneously, an aww-shucks teenage girl and a 300-year-old expert of an unbeatable form of martial arts. The CGI is good, but not quite good enough to escape the uncanny valley. Personally, I sat somewhere right between being charmed and being creeped out by Alita.
The aim of Alita: Battle Angel was to make the most mangaest movie ever, and I think they largely succeeded. Now is that a goal worth pursuing? That, I’ll leave up to you.