Ho. Lee. Shit. I loved this movie. Let’s just clarify that upfront. That said, it’s a manga adaptation, and it’s pretty damn over-the-top, so it’s never going to be everyone’s cup of tea. But it certainly was mine. A sci-fi/CGI/superhero/manga mashup unlike anything I have ever seen. A total mindtrip. Utterly gorgeous to look at. And, for lack of any better way to put it, just COOL AF. Directed by Robert Rodriguez, and produced by James Cameron, this one is outrageously slick. Still need to hear more? Okay, then…
So, What’s the Vibe?
It’s 600 years or so in the future; about 300 years after a great war; known as “The Fall”. During that time, the great, opulent, floating cities which hovered above Earth, were destroyed… All, but one.
Fast forward to the “present”, and people on the ground live in a kind capitalist servitude where the economy exists to serve the overlords above. People can get rich, get laid, get robotically upgraded, get paid for bounty hunting, or just live out their lives… but what they can never do, is get to the mysterious, floating paradise above. Only one person each year ever goes up. To do that, they must win at “Motorball” (pretty much futuristic Roller Derby, but with weaponised cyborgs on motorised rollerblades).
And, as I may have already mentioned, everything looks cool as hell.
Get to the Point, Gord…
Right, so a brilliant and kind-hearted cyber surgeon (Christopher Waltz) finds the discarded head and (human) brain of an old cyborg in the trash heaps. He rebuilds her, intending to raise her something like a daughter. Only, it turns out she’s the last of a long-gone type of human/nanotech weapon hybrid from the great wars, and her memory is pretty much blank. But now, she’s being raised right by a good dude who’s all about fighting corruption, oppression and prejudice. Ass-kicking ensues.
What’s good about it?
To me, pretty much everything. I fell head over heels in love with Alita the second I saw her. She’s, beautiful, charming and naive. But also tough, righteous, and extremely bad-ass, right off the bat. And that’s before she starts to learn just how hardcore she really is. She’s wonderfully “digitally” portrayed by Rosa Salazar, who nails the whole “cyborg with a human soul” thing just perfectly.
The artwork and direction, which takes blending live acting and fantastic CGI to soaring new heights, is enough to justify the ticket price on its own, even if the story, or the OTT manga vibe isn’t your thing. But it was definitely my thing. The action sequences are insane. Violent, but not gratuitously so. Mesmerising. I felt like I was six-years-old, watching my first lightsabre fight.
What’s Not So Good About it?
Well, not much, I didn’t think. But, I can see how some parts of this aren’t gonna be for everyone. It perfectly nails the blending of manga spirit with Hollywood “bigness”, the way so many other attempts have failed to do (Ghost in the Shell). But, in so doing, retains a lot of that campy, bubblegum cuteness that things like the Marvel Universe take themselves way too seriously for. That said, to me, this kicks Captain Marvel‘s predictable ass up and down the aisle, all day long. The dialogue may be a bit cheesy for some tastes. But I found it just “manga” enough. And, there’s a love story involved. It’s a little schmaltzy, I have to admit. If there’s one thing I have to dislike in this, it’s the casting and performance of love interest “Hugo”; played by Keean Johnson, who I kinda wanted to slap a little bit.
Also, even a movie as utterly rad as this probably doesn’t have the power to make rollerblading cool again.
Literally any time Alita is on screen doing anything. If I have to pick though, it’s between a bar scene where she introduces herself to the Bounty Hunter underground elite, and a part where she gets… how can I put it? “Upgraded“… and tests her new self out for the first time.
I get why this has gotten mixed reviews. Manga is a bit like sushi, (no cultural pun intended) in that people who like it, really like it. But, no matter how good it is, there’s nothing you can do to make someone who isn’t into it, enjoy it.
To me, though, this was damn near perfection. And it’s clearly a setup (as Cameron and Rodriguez have already suggested) for a sequel. Probably several. I simply can’t wait. I absolutely loved this movie.