Anime isn’t an easy artform to translate into a live-action film. There’s just so much more you can get away with in animation, from the colorful worlds to the exaggerated character designs and movements of said characters. But every now and then, there’s a movie that throws its heart into the conversion, and delivers a living, breathing example of how the genre is best adapted into the world of flesh and blood human beings. Alita: Battle Angel is one of them, and that’s one of the reasons this film feels so damned special, and so damned good.
Alita: Battle Angel follows the resurrection of an abandoned cyborg (Rosa Salazar), who finds new life thanks to a kindly cybernetics expert (Christoph Waltz). Centuries after a massive war known as “The Fall,” she struggles to recapture the memory of who she is, while learning how things work in the land known as Iron City. With shady parties taking a keen interest in her existence (Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali), and a mystery unfolding on the streets of her new home, Alita will rise to become the woman she’s always been destined to be.
With Alita: Battle Angel, director Robert Rodriguez has graduated to the big-budget class of blockbuster directing. Talented helmers with tons of experience making lower budgets work don’t always translate well to the big leagues, but Rodriguez shines with a lavish budget as he remembers one very important aspect – he makes us fall in love with the characters we’re watching on the screen.
Part of that success is owed to the script that producer James Cameron and co-writer Laeta Kalogridis labored over for quite some time, as this film was in development alongside Cameron’s own Avatar. The story works so well in both the capacity of setting up a larger world, as well as letting the audience really get to know the people living in it, with a good dose of action set-pieces to keep it all moving. There are so many plates spinning in Alita: Battle Angel, but all are vital to truly building the world we could potentially return to. (Yes, this movie ends on a massive tease for a potential sequel.)
Of course, without Rodriguez’s directing chops, and the spectacular cast chosen to bring it to life, Alita: Battle Angel wouldn’t have the super-powered heart it possesses. In particular, Rosa Salazar’s tremendous work as Alita holds this universe together, without any question or fault. Her shifts from childlike wonder to her more grown and experienced persona happen so naturally, with Salazar seizing focus in the most naturalistic of ways.
Her ability to make the viewer believe in Alita in turn helps us believe in the world of Alita: Battle Angel all the easier. Which means that by time the big ticket spectacle kicks into high gear, and it’s not long before it does, we’re fully along for the ride. And there’s plenty of ride to be taken, as everything from bounty hunters to the futuristic sport of Motorball are waiting for those keen to take the journey.
In the current market, it’s not hard to find a potential franchise starter, or big-budget eye candy, at any given moment in theaters. And yet, Alita: Battle Angel feels like it’s put its best foot forward. The love for the world being crafted by Robert Rodriguez and his collaborators can truly be felt throughout this entire film. No corners are cut, no shortcuts are taken, and if something feels unexplored, it’s because it’s being saved for the sequels that totally need to happen.
Alita: Battle Angel is the old school blockbuster the world has needed for some time now, and dare it be said, it’s what Avatar should have felt like when it debuted. It’s a world that’s built for return trips, simply because the story demands such treatment. It baits the hook for further adventures without getting lost in telling a singular story. And it lays down a proper foundation for exploring the world it introduces the viewers to.
There’s a scene in Alita: Battle Angel where our protagonist offers her heart to her love interest in the film. That’s exactly what it feels like Robert Rodriguez, and all involved, are doing with this film. They’re offering a big, colorful, beating heart of a movie for the world to enjoy, leaving nothing on the field. If there’s any justice in the world, this won’t be the last time we’ll see the battle angel herself taking the big screen by storm; because Alita kicks all of the ass.