Hey folks... Roy here, just got home from ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL, directed by Robert Rodriguez and executive produced by James Cameron, and filmed right in AICN's stomping grounds, of Austin, Texas.
This will be an early review just to let folks know that I recommend they go see it on the big screen. I'll let others dissect it and play it with it. I just want to say-- what a blast I had watching it. I also want to answer the most important questions I can think of that might be in people's minds right now.
What's the cast like? It's got an amazing cast. Christoph Waltz is great as Ido, and Mahershala Ali steps right out of the anime with Vector.
Jennifer Connelly's Chiren works, but I wish there was a 3 hour cut with all the scenes and backstory between her and Ido we need to understand her choices at the beginning of the film and at the end. She has some great moments, but I honestly feel like I am missing something that would completely unpack in a recent fan of the anime-- like they would better understand the limited dialogue she gets. There's one exchange she has with Ido outside a bar that I won't ruin with a spoiler, but it feels like a 'truer' fan of BATTLE ANGEL ALITA would have been thrilled with, and for me, it just felt like a missing quantity of memetic extrapolation, and I'd wished I'd spent months catching up on the series.
Jackie Earl Haley is just brilliant in the villain he's playing (I'm going to keep his character name spoiler-free). I think some will find Keean Johnson's Hugo off, but I really liked him. The real standout is Rosa Salazar as Alita. The huge eyes thing might distract some, but I think it's a brilliant way to bring anime style to the big screen, and they make Alita beautiful and very real. The performance capture is outstanding.
Is the 3D bad and gimmicky? No. And, also, I can't believe that I forgot this film would be in 3D. The trailers are all featuring big metal stabby tentacles leaping towards the foreground, and James Cameron's name is stamped all over it. Of course, it's in 3D!
Is the 3D as vital as, say, DOCTOR STRANGE? Nah. It's fun, it adds to the experience, but a 2D viewing would be just fine, I reckon. Whilst a 2D viewing of DOCTOR STRANGE is still amazing, it is nowhere near as mind-warping as the 3D version; ALITA doesn't need it, but it doesn't distract from it, either.
Is it for the little kids? NO. It's the most violent thing I can think of. Seriously. Not much red blood, but cyborgs with their human parts getting smooshed and crushed and cut in half and so on. NOT for kids.
Is it faithful to the manga/anime/original lithographs? In all honesty, I really could not say. It has been more than a decade since I watched BATTLE ANGEL ALITA and I did not chase it down for this. Which I am regretting a bit, as I think that cost me some of Chiren.
The research I did do was into Alita and her nature, to see if the live-action version was on-target, through some YouTube clips. I'm pleased to say, it changes. Alita in the original story is a panicked dodger at first, what Japanese fans in the 1990's might have expected a young woman to do under attack. She gasps, she cries out, and ultimately, she is cast as the victim in her own narrative.
Possibly for brevity, but more likely for story, this new Alita doesn't gasp, and she never becomes a victim to anyone else's aggression-- even when she loses. She ducks and then POUNCES like a mongoose being threatened by a King Cobra. One attempt to kill cinema-Alita's friends leads to her mopping the floors with killers.
It's important to say, that Salazar's Alita comes in badass and stays badass through the entire film. When you see her vulnerable, it's because she makes the choice to trust a person she barely knows, and she is all-in with her heart. But she's no one's small concern-- a big point of Rodriguez's film. When a big villain has Alita damaged and at a disadvantage at the end of the second act, he finds out just how not vulnerable even a torn-apart ALITA can be. And she does a little of what Captain America would call The Adult Language. The line "F@%& your mercy!" made the audience I was with cheer and I squealed, loudly, because of the sheer badassery of it all.
I keep coming back to the conclusion that Cameron and Rodriguez have cracked a code few other anime adaptations have with this new technology, and really delivered the same kind of action in living flesh tones. Some worrying casting revealed in the last scene pretty much tells me not to hold my breath for a sequel, but the fact that I even want a sequel means they must have something right.
-- Precious Roy