James Cameron acquired the movie rights to the manga “GUNNM” over 20 years ago, and had been planning Alita: Battle Angel ever since. A little movie (and soon, series of movies) called Avatar got in the way of that. Robert Rodriguez took the helm, with Cameron just producing, and co writing the screenplay. What we have here is a derivitave, but thoroughly entertaining sci fi adventure, with promise for the future.
Rosa Salazar plays the title character, Alita, and is great in the role. Having never read the original manga, I can’t judge the accuracy in her character, but she totally convinced me of her cyborg nature. The rest of the cast does very well, with Christoph Waltz, and Ed Skrein, as standouts. The only truly weak character was Jennifer Connolly’s. She just felt like a plot device, and I could have done without her.
The visuals are the star here. James Cameron’s vfx team at WETA Digital, who worked on Avatar, puts their A-game into creating such a detailed world. Alita’s manga like face is made startlingly realistic, and shows how far technology has come. The intricacy of the various parts on every cyborg bounty hunter is quite amazing. However, as much as James Cameron champions his 3D fusion camera system, I found the 3D presentation serviceable at best.
The script is very derivative of other sci fi classics like Blade Runner, and every movie with a lead character forgetting their past. However, the characters, and fun set pieces help engage the audience. There is some melodrama, but being that this is based on a manga, that is probably intentional. This very much feels like a first chapter, down to the cliffhanger ending, so the unanswered questions could make all of this a moot point. That being said, if this movie flops at the box office, we may never get those sequels.
The action sequences, while looking sometimes like a video game, are filmed with that signature Rodriguez energy, and gave me several wow moments in the theatre. If all you’re looking for is action, then buy your IMAX ticket right now. The Motorball sequences in particular are fantastic.
Overall, for a movie in development hell as long as this one, it could have turned out much worse. It’s pretty good in fact. If this only turns out to be a single movie though, it will be an incomplete story.
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