Alita: Battle Angel was a much anticipated James Cameron/ Robert Rodriguez manga adaptation that became a lot less anticipated after missing several release dates. Shifted from summer 2018 to Christmas and then to Feb 2019, it’s stuttering release feels right for a project that was in development for nearly 20 years. The team behind Alita seemed to have little confidence that this $200 million film would have made a dent in the packed pre-Covid Xmas market that year, but it would be a shame to write off Alita because of the delay; it’s actually quite a mind-blower.
Most comic book adaptations come from an ancient IP (Batman, Superman and so on are all from the 40’s and 50’s) and the world is usually male-dominated, violent and tediously All-American in outlook. Alita is none of these things, a comparatively recent Japanese comic (Yukito Kishiro’s Gunmn) with a strong female main character and a twisted dystopian world-view. Alita (Rosa Salazar) starts out as a girl soldier’s head, attached by a scientist (Christoph Waltz) to the limbs of his dead daughter. Alita sets out to train up as a bounty hunter to discover her true self, but gets dismantled by authority-figure villains (Mahershala Ali and his henchman Ed Skrein) only to be reborn in battle-angel’s armour.
After showing off her moves in a mad Rollerball sports tournament, Alita sets out after those who wronged her to extract revenge, with a little romance on the side. Although the teenage boy that Alita falls for is typical Rodriquez hero, complete with bandana, this is very much Cameron’s vision, with Terminator-style mechanical creatures running amok and a healthy cynicism about technology running alongside an amazing production design.
Best of all is Alita, with her massive eyes, looking kind of like a manga teenagers dream of Aubrey Plaza, kicking ass and taking names. Grey-beards and old fogeys won’t care for it it, but if you can get your head around the fresh (for cinema) sci-fi concepts, Alita is strong, thoughtful fare, rendered in ground-breaking style. It’s a shame that the fan-boys who wet themselves over antiquated IP probably will never give this kind of thing a chance; much like the character in the film, Alita is a vastly superior product, and Cameron’s recent suggestion (Jan 2023) of further adventures for the character is welcome.