Manga – a style of Japanese comics and graphic novels – is a genre I’m not too familiar with. I’m aware of its existence, its following (many of them acquaintances) and the impact is maddening. At some point in life I might dip a toe in those waters. For now, I’m good. BUT… there’s a title from the Manga world that’s piqued my interest. And it all started with a teaser (you can see here). It was unique and interesting.
Originally set for a July 2018 release, then pushed to December 2018, FOX decided to push it back again. We’ve been in this game long enough to know when release dates are played with…something’s up! Exactly what? That’s a shrug. Now opening February 14, 2019, ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL is set to take over movie screens across the nation. Still causing a stir of echoes on the web, the main attraction to the piece other than its origins for execution are the two powerhouse names involved.
From visionary filmmakers James Cameron (AVATAR) and Robert Rodriguez (SIN CITY), ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL exposes an epic adventure of hope and empowerment, based upon the Manga graphic novel series by Yukito Kishiro. When Alita (Rosa Salazar) awakens with no memory of who she is in a future world she does not recognize, she is taken in by Ido (Christoph Waltz), a compassionate cyberphysician who realizes that somewhere in this abandoned cyborg core is the heart and soul of a young woman with an extraordinary past. As Alita learns to navigate her new life and the treacherous streets of Iron City, Ido tries to shield her from her mysterious history while her street-smart new friend Hugo (Keean Johnson) offers instead to help trigger her memories. But of course it is only when the deadly and corrupt forces that run the city, headed by Vector (Mahershala Ali), come after Ido and Alita that she discovers a clue to her past – she has unique fighting abilities ingrained in her that those in power will stop at nothing to control. If she can stay out of their grasp, she could be the key to saving her friends, her family and the world she’s grown to love.
I don’t have a dog in this fight. So, I’m coming from a completely neutral stance (unlike the two whiny dudes sitting behind me at the screening). Honestly, it’s a gorgeous film to watch. It looks and sounds amazing! Amplified by 100 since I caught it at a newly renovated Dolby auditorium at AMC Lincoln Square, the experience was intensely entertaining. Foot prints of both Cameron and Rodriguez are felt. The film does a good job at luring its audience into a dystopian world beyond anything I have ever seen. Visually, it’s a piece layered with so much grit and style and mood and an overall vibe of badassery!
ALITA’s also a sensorial immersion into a world of imagination, breathtaking action and hard emotion. Two of today’s leading creators of game-changing movie realms, Cameron and Rodriguez, combined their mutual enthusiasm for world-building and empowered female heroines to push the possibilities of visual story-telling into a new zone. At a run of two hours, it’s an ambitious movie. A full-blown, American crossover is still up for debate depending how true the source material’s been kept to its origins. That’s something I don’t know about, because I don’t follow Manga-based stories. All I know is I saw a cool Sci-Fi that pulled no punches. The real fanbase of the genre will determine (I guess) if this style has been accepted into an American cinematic world.
The thing is as much as I found myself drawn to its visuals and dope set-pieces, I didn’t really find myself swept by its characters or narrative. It was a one note wonder with no real sentimental value. The script does a decent job at introducing worlds and those who inhabit, but there’s little that’s done in order to have these characters (who look good) grow within us. Make us feel for them. At times I found myself drawn more towards the cast as the cast playing “so-and-so” than I did characters. None had an arc. They were there, had their purpose, moved from one scene to the next, but they all seemed a bit hollow and rushed. No real payoff. Just build-up to the inevitable showdown. A bit of a slow-burn, too. But it does pick up.
Overall, ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL isn’t a bad film. It’s got heavy-duty backing and execution. It seems like the product was way more to work with and/or on than expected. I think I see and understand why the changes in release dates. As a whole, it is a unique cinematic experience! One I totally recommend taking in by screening it at the biggest, 3-D screen you can find. When and/or if you do, you’ll see what I mean. Welcome, ALITA! Let’s see how far you get.
Grade: B- | Genre: Sci-Fi, Action/Adventure, Adaptation | Rated: PG-13 | Run Time: 122 Minutes
Starring: Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Keean Johnson
Directed by: Robert Rodriquez