James Cameron’s pet project that has been in the making for more than a decade has finally hit theatres, albeit with Robert Rodriguez (Sin City, Machete) taking the director’s rein. Alita: Battle Angel is not a live action manga adaptation that fans asked for but we have it nonetheless. Anime or manga adaptations have historically been box office flops - Ghost in The Shell, Dragonball Evolution just to name a few, but this film doesn't seem to be the case.
As a whole, Alita: Battle Angel is a decent film that relies heavily on its action to drive most of its plot - setting up a promising premise within an unusually warm cyberpunk world with a dark underbelly. The romance, as electrically-charged as a block of wood, leaves much to be desired and be prepared for some laughably cringey moments - or if you're into that, then eat it all up! Still, the film is good enough to warrant a watch from you - for the action if nothing else.
In the first half, the film tries to establish too much through dialogue - spanning from world building to character backstories of several different characters as well as developing them for the rest of the film maining Alita (Rosa Salazar) and her love interest, Hugo (Keean Johnson). There are a few moments between the two that are awfully convenient, especially their first and last interactions - Hugo was conveniently there when Alita was exploring Iron City, and Alita just appears out of nowhere after just learning, literally the scene before, that Hugo attempts to climb to Zalem, the floating city above Iron City, using the cables that connects the two. Their first meeting was understandable enough for the narrative but that last one just felt like some parts of the film were cut short. The rest of their interactions lack chemistry - the moment that they profess their love for each other felt somewhat genuine, albeit cringey.
There are definitely some forgettable characters in the film - aside from Hugo’s friends, there's Chiren (Jennifer Connelly), Doctor Ido's (Christoph Waltz) morally compromised ex and fellow cybernetics surgeon who was there at the final moment to save Hugo from his death. That one act of kindness was probably the only significant thing she did as the rest of the time, she's phasing in and out of the film, offering only how much she wants to return to Zalem. By the time she realises how much she's “crossed the line” for her goal, she is killed off by the main antagonist, Vector (Mahershala Ali) who made for a convincing villain that serves as a balancing force to the chaotic Iron City.
The film ends with a non-ending that sets up for a sequel which was predictable after the second visually showing of Nova, the true Mastermind that resides in Zalem, near the end of the movie. This decision is questionable at best but I would see it through for a proper conclusion to Alita's story.
Like I said in the spoiler-free zone, the film definitely relies heavily on the action to push the narrative forward - this could be out of necessity because of the amount of talking they had, but having the action interspersed in between did help in keeping the film engaging, which does build in intensity towards the climax. The Motorball, the world's equivalent of a gladiatorial motorsport with decked out androids, sequence is a definitive highlight of the film. This speaks well of the CGI because this film has A LOT of it - and if you're wondering about the eyes, yes it's a little weird but you'll get used to it pretty quickly.
The acting in the film is overall very good with exceptions. Salazar's of Alita seems like a breakout for the actress, showing genuine confusion and naivete that comes with her amnesia - that's if you go by the script but it's hard to tell with the amount of CGI they did for her face. Ali's performance was very good but his talents seem wasted on the writing while Waltz delivers a convincing concerned father figure who worries for his adopted daughter in Alita. Johnson's portrayal of the bad boy criminal with a golden heart was mediocre and that mediocrity is amplified during moments with Salazar's Alita.