Gregory G. H. Rihn (milwaukeesfs) wrote,
Gregory G. H. Rihn

Alita: Battle Angel

On Sunday, February 24th, we went to see Alita: Battle Angel, the latest CGI-enhanced live action movie to be adapted from a popular manga.

The world is a cyberpunk dystopia. Alita is a “total-replacement” cyborg, a human brain in an otherwise robotic body. Her comatose head and still-functioning life-support core are found in a junk pile by cybersurgeon Dr. Ido (Christoph Waltz) and reactivated after he attaches them to a new body—the body he had built for his young daughter who died before she could use it. The cyborg is amnesic, not remembering her name or background, so Ido calls her by his daughter’s name, Alita. If nothing else, Alita (Rosa Salazar) proves to have exceptional combat reflexes, and ingrained knowledge of a long-lost martial arts form. She establishes a friendship with Hugo (Keean Johnson) a cheerful hustler doing anything he can to get along in the post-apocalyptic slum that Earth has become three hundred years after an apparently mutually destructive war with its breakaway Martian colony.  Alita runs afoul of cyborg criminals, develops a rivalry with ruthless bounty hunters, and becomes targeted for what remains of her advanced technology.

Although there’s a lot of “battle” in the story, I was impressed by the complexity of the plot and the characterization. None of the main characters are only what they seem at first meeting, with hidden, usually, but not exclusively, darker sides.  I was also impressed with the visualization of the ruined world, and with the realization of cyborg combat, with its inhuman speed and power.  I had wondered if the CGI enlargement of Salazar’s eyes (what I call “anime eyes”) would make the movie too “uncanny valley”, but I got used to it quite rapidly, and I thought the effect worked well.

I enjoyed the movie, and with its obvious sequel-hook ending, would go see a second installment, if there is one. It seems to have done better than Ghost in the Shell, interesting considering that the same “whitewashing” complaints leveled at Ghost could apply to this one: in manga, Alita sometimes has an Asian skin tone, and Asiatic eye-shapes, but not a peep about this film that I saw. (Although apparently there was some criticism to that effect.)

Of course, a lot of criticism needs to be taken with a grain of salt, and with context. Some of the early criticism I’ve seen poked at the scene in which, after Alita’s first, girlish, cyborg body is wrecked (the one built by Ido), and she is hooked into a salvaged higher-tech Martian chassis, its nanotech reconfigures itself into a more mature body shape. People who critique this are missing that the youthful body was not her body, and, when we finally see her in flashbacks, she looks then as she does later: so, you really have to know the full story to critique sensibly.

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Tags: science fiction

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