James Cameron and Robert Rodriguez…you had just one job and one job only.
Do what many other could not do and take an anime classic and translate it to the big screen and not goof it up.
Looks like you may have succeeded.
I went in with low expectations for Alita: Battle Angel for many obvious reasons. When you look at the history of anime made into western live action films, the track record has been poor. The best example was the recently released Ghost in the Shell. However, with this particular movie, after 20 years of development hell and the release being pushed back for various reasons, this may be a sleeper hit.
But tt depends on who you are talking to.
But first, let’s get this out of the way. The biggest issue that many detractors may have is with the casting. In particular, Rosa Salazar as Alita and those giant CGI eyes.
We can all be mad about how Hollywood whitewashes anime made into live action films but beyond the CGI eyes, the cast from main actors to supporting actors are multicultural. No, I am not all that crazy about it either, but for now, it is what it is. Hollywood is slowly learning the lesson that minorities can sell films (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Black Panther, Crazy Rich Asians to name a few) but it’s a huge question of how much longer will it be before Hollywood really gets over their fear of casting Asian leads in films such as these.
On the other hand, to quote NPR’s review: “Waltz’s casting, and that of Rosa Salazar as Alita, have invited charges of whitewashing, though Alita creator Kushiro has defending the filmmakers by saying he never gave his futuristic story an Asian setting or explicitly Asian characters.”
So, your miles may vary on how you feel about the casting.
What it got right:
The setting of the movie, in my opinion, from the beginning was nearly pitch perfect. Rodriguez manages to capture most of the soul of the story while adding some meat to it as well. More on this in a moment as some of this works against him. The story adds depth to many of the original story elements that even the anime did not capture. Things such as Alita’s naiveté as she realizes the world around her added a lot of her character that many familiar to the original story didn’t get. I was even shocked at how much more we got out of the relationship between Christoph Waltz’ Ido and Jennifer Connelly’s Chiren which gave a catalyst to the friction that they had.The action scenes were fun and kinetic as there was enough to go around. Of course the CGI and 3D sold this movie pretty well for the experience. Also, the movie didn’t try to dig so much into the lore to give fans a headache trying to keep up.
What it got wrong:
Believe it or not, not a lot. But to refer to my earlier point of adding meat, there are a few points in which Rodriguez adds so much to the story, that he inadvertently slows the pacing down. Some of it has to do with Alita’s origins, at other times it’s trying to develop the relationship with Alita and Hugo played by Keean Johnson. There are times where the dialogue gets a bit cringe inducing as it feels like the writers had no place to go with some scenes. At those points, it feels like they added in sweet and sugary dialogue to get through some scenes. Trust me, when you hear “I’d give you my heart” you may retch, just a little bit.
There were a few characters that appear in this film for nothing more than filler. Mercifully, like a game of double dutch, they came and went without overstaying their welcome too long.
One of my other gripes may be something that you may not initially notice. Mahershala Ali’s Vector has this bad assed suit (which I will try to cosplay at some point!!) that he wears in the movie. I don’t know how this got past editing or costume design, but there is a gray sash the goes from right to left which mysteriously switches sides near the midpoint of the movie.
Beyond that, this film mostly entertains and if you are not familiar with the anime or manga, you should have a good time. For those of us that are, we may spend time nitpicking certain points. Ultimately we we would have to concede that this movie stayed mostly on point with the original story without going so far out of it that we don’t recognize it. This movie hit many of the beats and riffs of the original that for once, fans may get an enjoyable experience of an anime to live action film done (mostly) right.
People will still argue the point of whitewashing, (which again many will have valid points) but the movie remains close to the original story.
3.75 Gallys out of 5