Last week, at the tail end of my birthday vacation, I took in the Alita: Battle Angel film before it disappeared from theaters entirely. So how was it?
I wanted to love it. Couldn’t, but wanted to.
I collected most of the first batches of translated imported manga way back when, printed in US-style floppy comic book form back before publishers Stateside decided to properly embrace the manga-book format. Since I’ve not re-read them in years I had only the vaguest recollection of the key plot points going into the film experience. Honestly? That’s probably for the best. A movie adaptation is its own thing and shouldn’t be judged too strongly on how closely it hews to the source material.
Let’s start with the upsides: The action was very easy to follow and looked fantastic. Most of the cast did great work, notably Christoph Waltz as Ido. (Really. Waltz was brilliant in this.) Rosa Salazar carried the movie well and I hope she goes on to do greater things. I worry about Mahershala Ali getting typecast as a bad guy but he’s so good at it that hey, whatever gets this man a paycheck, eh?
Sets looked properly lived-in, used, like real places that people interacted with daily. The big-eyes thing on the main character? You get past that within a few short minutes, after which you only occasionally even remember it’s supposed to be a bit weird-looking. (It’s also explained… kind of, if you’re paying close attention.) All in all, Battle Angel is a great example of taking a manga property and translating it for an American movie-going audience while mostly respecting its source material and country of origin.
(I did say “mostly.”)
Too bad it won’t get a sequel and probably won’t spawn similar efforts. It’s a bit by-the-numbers, which isn’t a problem in and of itself. Heck, Captain Marvel is also by-the-numbers (in some respects) and I adored it. What really drags Battle Angel down, though, is… Hugo. Who I kept thinking was named Milo for days afterward even though I’d heard the character Alita calling his name dozens of times over the course of the movie.
Maybe it was coming off of the Captain Marvel viewing just a few days beforehand, but dammit, did we need a love interest? And if you’re going to center the bulk of the plot on a love-interest arc, you kind of need to make it compelling. Hugo was bland. The plot beats around Hugo were bland. And because Hugo is in almost as much of the movie as Alita herself, that meant the movie was… largely bland. Oof.
(Yes, I know: Hugo’s story arc is basically true to the source material. Watching this movie made me wish that it hadn’t been part of the source material. That’s… kind of a problem in your big-budget movie adaptation, guys.)
Also the “we have movie title” bit toward the end was groan-worthy. But, whatever.
All in all: If you’re a fan of the Alita/Gunnm manga… you’ve probably already paid to see this movie, let’s be honest. For everyone else? I give it a qualified recommendation; it’s not really a bad movie, just one which could’ve been much better.