I’m starting this review off telling you that I loved this movie. And that is shocking for a bunch of different reasons. One being the trailers for this looked ridiculous. That mostly has to do with the bizarre decision to give the actress playing the titular character gigantic anime eyes.
Maybe seeing it in the trailer first got me used to the idea, so when I saw it in the theater, it was something I didn’t even take much notice of.
The strangest thing yet, was how much the anime eyes work. Everyone in this scrap iron city are all a bunch of walking CGI junk parts. So seeing her giant eyes mixed in the crowded sea of freaks wasn’t that noticeable.
What also helps is the fact her giant anime eyes have a reason for being there. It isn’t just a stylistic choice by the director. But I’ll get into that later as I start diving a bit deeper into the story of Battle Angel.
The other issue going into Alita was the fact this was a live action adaptation of a popular Japanese anime. I know, I know, it’s based off a long running manga. But I’ve never read the manga or any manga to be honest. The only thing I have to base my knowledge on is from the anime that came out way back in 1993. Fuck knows if that was when I first saw it or not, I think it might have been. As I remember renting it from Blockbuster at my grandparent’s house and watching it at night as everyone slept.
My memory of that anime however is still very cloudy. Thankfully, YouTube is a place where you can find just about anything, so I took some time and watched a bit of the old anime to refresh my memory.
One thing I can say after rewatching it, is it’s very 90’s. Not a good thing or bad thing exactly, just a very… 90’s anime.
I might actually have a vhs copy around here somewhere. Wish I had the dvd as it is going for a shit ton on eBay right now.
The thing about live action anime adaptations… well… they fucking suck. I’m sure I could have found a less crude way of phrasing that, but why try to sugar coat it. Live action anime adaptions are fucking garbage.
I think the obvious comparison to Alita would be the Ghost in the Shell adaption that came out not that long ago. If you remember, I was a bit soft on that film when I reviewed it. But now after seeing Alita Battle Angel, I now see how good something like this can be if done properly.
So I’m not going to go easy on Ghost in the Shell any more. Hell, I even own it on 4K, even though I don’t have a 4k Blu-ray player to actually play the damn thing.
The worst case scenario for a live action adaption based off a popular anime is of course the dreadfully terrible Dragon Ball movie. I remember people actually getting excited for it when the news was announced. Those stupid stupid people. And this was back when I was a diehard Dragon Ball fan. Even back then I knew this was going to be total shit. They always are. They’re always too afraid of the source material or think their interpretation is better.
9 times out of 10 that is never the case. Hollywood remake of Oldboy anyone?
And don’t get me started on how bad Netflix’s Death Note was.
But it isn’t just Hollywood that can’t seem to crack the code, as a majority of live action adaptions come directly from Japan and oh boy are they fucking terrible as well.
Just recently I watched the live action adaption of Bleach on Netflix, and you guessed it, fucking sucked.
The live action version of Attack on Titan was also hilariously terrible as well.
Fullmetal Alchemist was also hot garbage.
And that’s just the recent films. I haven’t even touched on the older movies.
Like anything, there are some exceptions. I found the live action version of Tokyo Ghoul pretty well done. I’m not sure if that was due to me never having seen the anime, making me unaware of any serious bastardizations of the source material.
In Battle Angel’s case, I feel the changes they made improved on the anime. From what I remember of Motorball it was never even shown. But in the live action version, it’s a prominent part of the story.
In the anime for Battle Angel, it was always this sport that was happening in the background, but you never saw it taking place.
But here, in the film you get to experience it for your own eyes, giving us some of the best action sequences the movie has to offer.
Another issue I had going into this film was Robert Rodriguez. My main concern or I guess you could say my critique of Robert Rodriguez is he never seems to learn from his mistakes. He never seems to get any better as a director. 1990’s Robert Rodriguez is just the same as 2000’s Robert Rodriguez.
Now compare him to say Quentin Tarantino, a filmmaker who has gotten better and better over the years, constantly evolving with each film he does.
Robert Rodriguez I also think is at his best when someone else is doing the writing. In the past that was Tarantino, but here it’s James Cameron. I know Robert Rodriguez has a writing credit as well, but I think for someone like him, he benefits more by having someone better working beside him.
I’ve also been a big James Cameron fan since the first time I saw Terminator. Not to mention some of the best action sci-fi films were written by him. Hell, I’d even make the argument the only reason Kathryn Bigelow was as successful as she was, was partly due because of James Cameron. He touched up a lot of her scripts without getting credit for it. Just sayin’.
My point is, he’s a great talent.
And who knew the pairing between Robert Rodriguez and James Cameron would be such a perfect match.
I also feel this would have been a much different film if James Cameron was the one still set to direct. I’m not sure if it would have been better or worse, just that it absolutely would have been a much different film.
The thing I love about Robert Rodriguez is how much of a nerd he is. And I feel that’s what these live action anime adaptions are missing. They need nerdy fanboys like him writing and directing them.
He handled Sin City with such care and respect that he basically just used the comics as their script. He’s the kind of guy that stays faithful to the source material and you have to love him for it.
But what had me worried when I heard he’d be filling in for James Cameron was the fact Robert Rodriguez hasn’t really done anything this big before. Not to mention hasn’t done anything since Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, a film that was about 10 years too late and not very good.
After that he mostly stuck to his tv network El Rey. One thing I can give him credit for are the interviews he did with his fellow directors and friends. He gave maybe the best damn interview with Quentin Tarantino that I have ever seen.
I hate that my admiration for Robert Rodriguez has sunk that low. Back in the day, hearing that Robert Rodriguez had a new movie coming out would get me as excited as if I heard a new Tarantino movie was getting released. Of course I’m referring to his non-kid friendly movies.
Out of every filmmaker I admire the most, Robert Rodriguez was the most influential for me, from how I shot my short films, wrote my earlier scripts, to just the fact he convinced me to go out and make a movie myself.
Of course the double edge sword being I wasted 2 years of my life and ruined a longtime friendship to make a shitty fucking movie that no one should ever see and should only be used to torture prisoners of war.
On one hand, thanks Robert Rodriguez. But also on the other, fuck you very much.
If you haven’t seen the anime or read the manga this is based on, let me try my best at breaking down the story. There’s a lot to unpack, so let’s get started. And of course, spoilers aplenty after this point, so you’ve been warned.
The year is 2563, the world has fallen into ruin by a massive unknown war that happened 500 years ago. Now, people do their best, struggling to get by day to day.
In the sky, floats a city called Zalem. It’s one of the last floating cities in the world, since the remaining ones fell during the war.
Below Zalem is Iron City, a place where all the poor hobble together. They are quite literally used as Zalem’s dumping ground for all their trash.
In this giant trash heap, is Dr. Dyson Ido, played by Christoph Waltz. He’s a cyborg specialist, Iron City’s repair doctor.
While rummaging through the trash, looking for spare robot parts, he stumbles on the torso of a female cyborg.
He takes her back home and repairs her, giving her the old cyborg body he planned on giving his now deceased daughter. He also gives the cyborg his daughter’s name as well, Alita.
When Alita wakes, she has no memory of what happened to her or even who she is.
In this world, robotics is a huge part of life. Just about everyone has some kind of mechanical body or limb. Like the gladiator arena fights of ancient Rome, a violent sport called Motorball has risen out of this and taken over society.
People trying to gain their way into the sport are constantly upgrading their gear, becoming less and less like human beings and more and more like dangerous killing machines. Leaches even take advantage of this, mugging heavily geared up guys and jacking them of their limbs, reselling them for a profit.
The prize for winning Motorball is a one way trip to Zalem, a place everyone below wishes they could be but is forbidden to ever enter.
One of those people wishing they could return to Zalem is Chiren, played by Jennifer Connelly. She’s Dr. Dyson Ido’s ex-wife and like him, is a cyborg engineer, working for Vector, the top Motorball team and robotics company in the city.
Her and Ido used to be from Zalem but were kicked out. Ido doesn’t have any interest going back there, but Chiren wants nothing more than to return.
The law in Iron City runs mostly on bounty hunting. The company Vector hands out bounties on lethal cyborgs that have either started killing for fun or to gather better equipment for themselves.
Ido moonlights as one of these bounty hunters, calling themselves Hunter-Warriors.
Alita soon starts to suspect that maybe Ido isn’t who he says he is, possibly the one responsible for the recent rash of young women being murdered.
As she silently stalks Ido, he silently stalks a woman walking home. Alita stops him from what to her seemed like an attack, but really it was a setup by Grewishka, a massive cyborg with a giant price on his head.
He has led Ido into a trap, only having Alita jump in and save the day. She quickly takes out two cyborgs with her martial art style known as Panzer Kunst, a fighting style that only those from Mars know.
Grewishka limps away licking his wounds, returning to Chiren for repairs. She notices something or someone has been controlling Grewishka. That person is Nova, the head honcho up in Zalem.
He wants Chiren to help kill Alita, wanting her high tech heart for himself.
Alita learns a bit about herself thanks to a memory of her in a battle on the moon. Ido fills her on the martial art move she used. Only those from Mars know how to use it, they were also the enemy earth went to war with 500 years ago. No one has seen them since.
Here enters the big anime eye thing. Only those from Mars have the big eyes. The same for those in Zalem, who have markers on their foreheads.
Big eyes are just an indicator that they are Martian cyborgs and Martian tech, tech that earth knows very little about. Even for Zalem they are unknown.
Enter Hugo, the young man that has stolen Alita’s heart. And quite literally as at one point she even offers it to him.
His dream is to one day go to Zalem. To do that, he needs to pay his way. To make enough money he moonlights with a few of his friends as one of those leeches I mentioned who take cyborg parts and resell them on the black market.
Even in the anime I was never truly sure of his intentions towards Alita. I wasn’t sure if he wanted to scrap her or if he had actual feelings for her.
Maybe he had that inclining when they first met, but I do think he had feelings for her just as much as she did for him.
Anyway, he introduces her to Motorball, where she takes a liking to it pretty quickly.
As their bond grows, he shows her to this downed Mars ship. It’s been picked after over the years but most has been left alone since it’s technology no one really understands. But Alita does.
She is drawn inside where she finds a cyborg body known as a Berserker body. It’s a body made for military use.
With this new body, Alita wants to become a Hunter-Warrior like Ido and help go after Grewishka. But Ido refuses, knowing how dangerous this body can be.
Not taking no as an answer, Alita goes to become a Hunter-Warrior anyway, entering the bar all these roughneck bounty hunters hang out at.
The biggest dick bounty hunter is Zapan, a pretty faced cyborg with a Martian katana sword.
He confronts Alita, getting his ass kicked.
Alita begs the rest of the bounty hunters to help her track down Grewishka. But since he got his bounty revoked by Vector, no one wishes to go after him anymore.
And speak of the devil, a newly upgraded Grewishka shows up looking to tangle with Alita, finishing what they started in that alleyway.
Grewishka takes the fight down below in the sewers, Alita manages to rip out his eye, or more like shove her whole fist in there, but her body gets sliced up in the process.
Now with no other choice, Ido has to reunite Alita with the Berserker body.
Learning that Hugo can leave the city if he had a few more bucks, Alita tries out for Motorball, only having it be a trap. All the other players are assassins or blacklisted players on the wanted list.
While Alita battles it out, Hugo is confronted by Zapan, who wants to get some revenge for being humiliated by Alita at the bar.
He sets Hugo up for murder, forcing a bounty on Hugo’s head.
Hugo makes it to a church, waiting for Alita to finish off the rest of her would be assassins.
She catches up to Hugo, only to have him fatally wounded by Zapan.
Not sure what to do, Chiren shows up offering a solution.
Alita shows the Hunter-Warriors Hugo’s severed head, ending the bounty. Zapan however isn’t satisfied and tries taking the head. A clear violation of the rules, Alita slices his face off.
Alita takes Hugo’s head back to Ido where he is given a cyborg body.
Angry that Hugo was tricked by Vector on the promise that if he gathered enough money he could go to Zalem, Alita pays Vector a visit. Oh yeah, Vector is also a person, played by Mahershala Ali who is in everything now. Not that I’m complaining as he’s a fantastic actor.
But like Grewishka, he’s also being controlled by Nova, played by Edward Norton. There are a lot of random small cameos like that. Michelle Rodriguez even pops up as Alita’s old commanding officer in a flashback.
I’m a pretty big Jackie Earle Haley fan, so I was waiting and waiting for him to show up, but I never noticed him. Then I found out he was playing Grewishka. Since that character is all CGI, I guess they could make him look like anything, so it never even hit me that was him.
Vector keeps up his part of the deal and gives Chiren that trip to Zalem. Unfortunately, organs for Nova’s experiments ever make it up.
Alita finishes off Grewishka and gives Nova a warning. She’s coming for him. She punctuates that by killing Vector.
Upset, Hugo tries climbing the factory tubes to Zalem. The tubes are guarded by automated defensive rings that shoot out if anyone attempts to climb on them.
Alita tries to save Hugo was is too late, his new body gets destroyed and tumbles to his death.
Deadset on revenge, Alita joins Motorball to win the star athlete position, earning that trip to Zalem where she can kill Nova.
The film ends there. I know a lot kind of look at it like a sequel is inevitable, like they leave you hanging. But!
That’s where the anime left us and we never got a sequel. Hell, it didn’t even end with that, it ended with Hugo dying and her and Ido saying their goodbyes as the float a part of his body up to Zalem.
I’m sure more happened after that in the manga, but for the anime that was all we had. So I’m actually okay with the film ending somewhat sequel baity.
That’s one thing I still remember clearly from the 1993 anime, just how sad it ends and is never continued.
I’m sure there will be more sequels down the line, but I’m okay with just this.
I’m sure however that there’s a 3 and half hour cut of this coming soon when this hits Blu-ray. Both Robert Rodriguez and James Cameron are known for their extended director’s cut.
And knowing Robert Rodriguez, who has an SFX studio in his garage, I can see him adding a ton of gore just for the hell of it. That part might be unlikely, but it’s fun to speculate.
I absolutely recommend checking this one out in theaters. I had hoped to see this one in 3D, but the only showings where are night. Which makes me think that maybe 3D is on the way out now.
I give Alita: Battle Angel a SEE IT rating.
Next week I plan on reviewing… well… you’ll have to wait to find out.
Want EARLY access to our videos, uploads, and movie/script reviews? Members get them FIRST! Follow this link to our Discussion Forum.
And be sure to check out our Notes Service, where I give my detailed thoughts and suggestions on your script.