I have waited 20 years for this movie. Not an exaggeration. I first got into the Battle Angel Alita (aka Gunnm) manga in the mid 90s. I found the narrative amazing, but it was the absolutely mind-blowing fighting choreography that grabbed my imagination. Yeah, it was cool how the storytelling genre changed every one to two volumes, but the way the writer/artist Yukito Kishiro drew the kinetic action was a thing of beauty.
Anyway, Hollywood uber-director James Cameron (fresh off of Titanic) became enamored with the Battle Angel Alita manga too (turned onto it by his friend Guillermo del Toro, if I recall). So much so that he planned to make it his next movie as soon as cutting-edge CGI could advance enough in order to competently display both the characters and the world of Battle Angel that he envisioned. He even bought the "battleangelalita.com" domain in 2000. There are tons of interviews in the early aughts with Cameron where he discusses his love of the story and how he already had a first draft of the script completed... Then came Avatar.
James Cameron threw his everything into Avatar — and then its sequels — forsaking even his love for Battle Angel Alita. He kept our hopes going though, swearing over and over again that it was still on his To-Do List... But still nothing ever came of it.
Finally, in 2015, Cameron announced that he was working with director Robert Rodriguez to finally bring the BAA movie to life, after Rodriguez successfully reduced Cameron's own script from 186 pages (and hundreds of pages of notes) down to around a lean 120 (with a page of script typically equating to a minute of film). And after a few delays, a February 2019 release date was given. And now the movie is out!
Thank you, professor, for that boring as fuck history lesson. Got anything to say about the actual movie?
Sure. Why not. Alita: Battle Angel is by far the best anime/manga-to-live action movie translation ever made.
Better than White Ghost in the Asian Shell? Or Dragon Ballz: Evolution? Or that Fullmetal Alchemist movie?
Yes. Yes. And yes.
Alita: Battle Angel took the heart of the first two volumes of the manga and made a compelling and complete narrative out of them. Is it the greatest movie ever made? No. Is it the most amazing apocalyptic sci-fi film I've ever seen? No. Terminator (another James Cameron movie!) and Mad Max: Fury Road are more compelling and better movies. But, Alita is fun, very engaging, and glorious to look at.
But what about that CGI-creature's eyes! They're HUGE!
When they released the first trailer for A:BA, it was revealed that the main character (Alita herself) had the weirdest looking giant eyes, yes. I saw them, you saw them, and everybody who cared about this movie jumped on the internet and expressed their hatred for them. But then James Cameron himself fixed things (by having the FX teams make the creepy-looking small irises in Alita's eyes larger), and honestly, they don't bother me anymore. After about 30 seconds of watching the character in the movie I had almost completely forgotten that she was a computer-generated being with Disney-heroine-like eyes. There were maybe only two or three scenes in the entire flick where they could have spent a couple more minutes working on the rendered battle angel herself. Those scenes took me out of the movie and made me remember that Alita was just pixels printed to film. But that is maybe ten to fifteen seconds of a two hour-long movie. Not bad.
So it didn't suck... What is this Japanesey manga-movie about then?
It's more than 500 years in the future, and the world is a shithole. There was an interplanetary war a few centuries in the past, and almost all life on Earth was wiped out... But the "sky-city" Zalem survived, as did its sister-burg on the ground below it, Iron City.
The inhabitants of the land-based Iron City look up with awe at the beauty of the seemingly-floating Zalem, but they can never reach its glorious heights. They are meant to toil in the factories and live in the filth of their over-populated scrap-heap of a town instead.
It is into this world that cyborg physician Dr. Dyson Ido discovers the head and torso of a cyborg in the junkyard underneath Zalem's shadow. When he finds out that this cyborg's brain is in some sort of hibernation thanks to its extremely advanced lost tech from before the war (or "the Fall," as the Iron Citizens refer to it), he decides to take it home and hook it up to a new body, 'cause he loves to help others and rebuild broken robot-people. It's not only his livelihood, but a kind of hobby too.
Oh my GAWD! Is this just the setup? You don't need this much exposition!
Oh, that is perhaps this movie's biggest issue (and it's not really all that big): Exposition. There is so much history and world-building that needs to be expressed in order for the plot to make sense. There are a lot of scenes where characters will just walk together and straight-up explain stuff. It wasn't as obvious as say M. Night's The Last Airbender or the Star Wars Prequels, but in order to keep Alita: Battle Angel from becoming a 3-hour marathon of a movie it was necessary. But I digress.
So, Dyson puts the head and heart of this trashed cyborg into a beautiful and delicate body, and when she wakes up he finds that (unsurprisingly) she has no memory of who or what she was before she was found. We then learn about this future world, see its dangers (rogue cyborgs killing innocents in the streets at night, bounty hunters called Hunter-Warriors collecting the heads of criminals instead of a police force, and MOTORBALL!!!), and meet its inhabitants all through
Gally's, I mean Alita's saucer-like eyes. The most important Iron City citizen that shee meets being a 100% natural youth (meaning "no cyber-enhancements") named Hugo.
Ugh, let me guess, the robot-girl falls in love with this meat-bag boy at first sight.
She does, but her relationship with the fairly bland Hugo is actually a bit more compelling in the movie than it is in the manga, even though they remove Hugo's back-story and reason for wanting to go to Zalem (which is his character arc — trying to make his way to the hovering city). But anyway, yes, Alita meets Hugo and finds that she has a purpose in this world: to help Dyson and Hugo live, be happy, and accomplish their seemingly far-off dreams. And to that end she becomes a Hunter-Warrior and eventually tries out for an official MOTORBALL team!!!! God I love Motorball! The two volumes dedicated to this sport in the manga are the best in the series! And we even see the great Jashugan in action in this movie!
So is this a sports movie? What the hell are you going on about?
I'm sorry. I'm just such a big fan of the manga that I tend to jizz-out a bit when I realize that we actually have a real, live-action Battle Angel movie here, and it's pretty damn good! And it has MOTORBALL in it! My apologies.
Anyway, no, unfortunately the hyperly-violent sport of Motorball doesn't have much to do with the plot, but instead we find that a Zalem super-scientist named Desty Nova is ruling Iron City from his gilded perch above the junkyard town, and through some of his puppets he's determined to shut this Alita upstart down for mysterious reasons.
During all this, Alita starts to get flashbacks from her previous life as a soldier in the Martian military who was sent to Earth for a surgical strike mission. Things went south for Alita in the past, but her current self soon remembers her training in the art of Panzer Kunst (a cyborg martial arts developed for agile and powerful robotic bodies, mainly for use in zero-gravity) and she uses this knowledge to take the world of the Hunter-Warriors (and eventually Motorball) by storm.
Something tells me you haven't even gotten to the meat and potatoes of this thing yet... Can you just wrap it up already?
Like I said, there's lots of exposition in this thing (in both the movie and my review), but yeah, you already have the gist of the world and know the main perils that Alita faces (trying to keep Ido and Hugo safe from forces that are using them against her).
The last thing I'll point out is that everything ties up very well in the end, with the culmination of all of Alita's new experiences and friends building into a heartbreaking ascent towards the heavens. After that is the great finale that hints at an even more glorious potential sequel.
Finally. So... Anything to add, other than Alita's bug-eyes are kind of weird?
A few things, but first I'll tackle the whole eye thing. You see, Cameron and Rodriguez had the unenviable task of coming up with a way to make Alita stand out from the rest of the 100% natural humans and the other cyborgs in this world. She had to look alien and different at first glance, but still be recognizable as a human herself. The big, puffy lips that she has in the manga (her "octopus lips") would have just looked stupid in a photo-realistic CG creation, so the only other way to go was her eyes. They make her look more innocent and they make her appear to be "not from around here," which is exactly what she was; she was initially a Martian soldier built to fight in space from 300 years in the past.
Onward to the special effects! They were indeed amazing! The many cyborgs and settings in this movie that made me utterly forget that they were just figments of a computer's imagination made me lose myself completely almost the entire movie. Sure, there were a couple of instances where a character looked a little plasticy or just a bit "off", but those occurrences were rare, and the average movie goer would never even notice them.
Other than that, the only thing that I am sad about is that this $170million production is more than likely going to lose money and therefore not get awell deserved sequel made. The best of the Battle Angel storyline is yet to come, what with Alita becoming a Tuned Agent, fighting the Barjack bandits in the wastelands, and eventually confronting Desty Nova and battling him with her wits as well as her martial arts... Oh, and Figure Four. Goddamn I'll be so pissed if we never meet the most bad-assed fully human mo-fo ever: Figure Four. We NEED an Alita: Battle Angel sequel (Alita: Fallen Angel, or Alita:Killing Angel, or Alita: Angel of Death, or Alita: Angel's Ascension... You get the idea). Please, James Cameron! Use your ultimate power to make this happen! I need more Desty Nova!
You realize I still don't plan to see this thing, right?
Post apocalyptic martial arts movies featuring CGI main characters aren't for everyone — I admit it. But if you have an open mind, I'm positive you'll at least enjoy it. Is it Schindler's List? No. But it is better than 90% of the crap that Hollywood shovels down our throats every year. Give it a shot and you'll be impressed.
I once found a human head and torso in a trash heap. And I even stitched it together with a body I found somewhere and brought it all to life. But my creation was not a wide-eyed cutie-pie who could kill anyone and anything she bumped into with her bare hands. Instead, my "human head on a pitbull body" just tried to break into my cupboard to get to my beef jerky, and then it tried to kill itself by constantly starting my car and sucking on its tailpipe, or by calling the police and swearing that it had a gun and hostages in order to get shot by a SWAT Team sniper.
In the end, Bitey McRabies led a short and fairly famous life after I rented him out to the special effects crew of that John Carpenter movie The Thing. Bitey had fun as one of the "between stages" of the alien in that movie morphing from a dog to a human, but in order to save a few bucks the film crew actually set him on fire for his character's demise. All I got out of it was a free ticket to the film's debut. I got to meet Farrah Fawcett at that premier though, so that was nice.
I liked it until I found out it was an anime first. The Rossman is ALWAYS pushing this kind of garbage on me! He'll trick me into watching or reading something, I'll like it, and then he'll be like, "Surprise, mothafucka! It's really an adaption of a Japanese anime!" Or a comic book. Or a video game. Or a Japanese movie. Or whatever else. Why can't he like anything that didn't originate from fucking Japan?
Before I found out that this weird movie was based on some Japanese shit first, I loved the violence and action of it! The chick with the huge eyes was weird, but once she got that upgraded body she was a little hotter. Oh, and that one chick from Labyrinth was in this thing! She still looked good for like a 50 year-old.