Anime/manga adaptations are a tricky thing. The most popular animes are usually 100+ episodes, and have been going on for ten plus years. So, adapting such strong source material as Battle Angel Alita was a hefty challenge. That’s where James Cameron came in. For years Cameron wanted to work on an adaptation of this manga anime. It was, for the longest time, along with Avatar, one of Cameron’s most prized film interests. Years passed and after Avatar’s release, Cameron gifted the director role to (the least likeliest of filmmakers) Robert Rodriguez (Sin City and Spy Kids). Rodriguez has not had a true hit movie in some time and Alita: Battle Angel may not change that, but it is a modestly well-executed animated adaptation with a lot to admire in special effects and characters.
Once you get past the distracting anime eyes, the main character, Alita, is actually a well-developed protagonist portrayed by Rose Salazar. She is a complex cyborg warrior from another time, who seeks to discover her memories. Her relationship with Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz) is a believable bond between a scientist and a cyborg. You can tell that Dyson, overall, cares for Alita’s well-being and doesn’t want her to compete in motorball, a royal battle race where cyborgs fight to the death. The other relationship, that builds well over the course of the film, is between Alita and Hugo, a street guy who teaches her how to do motorball and her love interest after some not so surprising twists along the way.
The film’s special effects are nothing short of spectacular, as you would expect from producer and screenwriter, James Cameron. These effects were provided by a number of companies, including Weta Digital and Captured Dimensions, and they do a splendid job of bringing the film’s vision to life. The world of 2563 comes to life as a very grimey and abandoned place, almost like something out of Wall-E (2008). There are half cyborg and half humans running through the streets, and mankind, as a whole, seems almost withered and out of balance. It’s truly a beat down planet where only the toughest have survived. At points, the special effects are obviously CGI, but overall, they are very seamless.
The film spends a lot of time explaining this new universe and it’s pretty obvious Cameron and Rodriguez are planting the seeds for a franchise. The film’s main antagonists are Vector (Mahershala Ali), an entrepreneur who rigs motorball games, Chiren (Jennifer Connelly), Ido’s ex-wife, who was expelled from the utopia Zalem, along with their daughter, and Zapan (Ed Skrein), a bounty hunter, who is constantly, and quite comically, being rebuilt and reformed in his attempts to track down and kill Alita. While these characters have clear motives, I found their overall appearances and attempts at straight up villainy coming off as ill-defined, like there was a lot more of them that was left in the screenwriting cutting room floor, or something. It’s a casual complaint, but it’s one that stuck out the most during my viewing.Alita: Battle Angel is a somewhat surprisingly solid manga adaptation. It might seem confusing for anyone who hasn’t read the manga (I’ve only looked at it fleetingly myself.). It is, if for no other reason, worth seeing on the big screen for the visuals and special effects alone.