"Never take off the mask."
"Never take off the mask."

Unmasked: “Alita: Battle Angel”

Manga, cyberpunk, etc.

I have the feeling that so much time has passed since I’ve last written anything that I’ve already forgotten what I’m usually talking about. This doesn’t matter at the moment anyways, since after an almost 3-month drought, I’ve finally found something worth going to the cinema and not because I’ve expected something great (on the contrary – I had almost no expectations, especially given the fact I’ve watched similar adaptation mistakes such as “Ghost in the Shell”) but because the only thing I knew about the movie was that it’s an adaptation and whatever else I’ve seen in the trailer, which made me think: “Well, if I don’t go to the cinema to watch this, I’ll probably never do so.” So, one thing led to another and here I am, talking nonsense about Bob Rodriguez’ newest movie which, surprisingly or not, did NOT manage to disappoint me.

But actually, what’s Alita? As already mentioned, we’re talking here about an adaptation which in this case is based on the “Gunnm” manga from the 90’s (whose alternative name is “Battle Angel Alita) created by Yukito Kishiro. And yes, it does sound like information that I’ve copied directly from Wikipedia and yes, it technically is. I reckon that most of you, including myself, still have no idea what the manga is about and a bit of further reading into the plot of the original source led me to believe that Rodriguez and Cameron have been a little creative and have used their liberty to interpret some things in their own way, purely directing- and plot-wise speaking, which is actually completely normal, especially when considering how the movie crowd’s taste has changed in the last 25 years (after all, let’s not also forget that the movie is not allowed only for people aged 12 or less).

Now that I think about it, I believe that the mentioned above and the fact that we’re talking about a cyberpunk action taking place in a dystopian, almost post-apocalyptic future is more than enough information for you to consider before going to see Alita’s adventures. As once somebody said, the rest can be read in Internet and if what has been described so far doesn’t look fascinating to you, then probably your feelings after the movie won’t be really positive as well. But let me at least tell you (with the least amount of spoilers I can) what it’s all about:

Are we watching a videogame or ?

Indeed, the movie throws us straight into the action (i.e. the scrapyard) where the whole reborn story of our heroine begins. Later we get familiar with the world in which she is brought back to life where the separation between the common and the rich people is clear (with the rich living in the sky, of course – Blomkamp fans who’ve seen the decent “Elysium” will feel comfortable) and where people, androids and every other type of creature live peacefully together. Technically, the plotline goes pretty calmly and smoothly but only until a specific moment. The relatively trivial plot then suddenly turns into an almost complete chaos where the attempts for something fresh and unpredictable (I admit there were some scenes where the twists were not really that apparent) clash with the romance and the strive to keep the story as close as possible to the original. Therefore, we get a couple of illogical moments, cliche dramatics, a little soapy romantic side and, luckily or not for the viewers, an open but definitely not a happy end.

At first sight, it seems that the movie script is total nonsense but in practice “Alita: Battle Angel” manages to build a somewhat decent cyberpunk story which, purposely or not, references a couple of other productions which became popular with a particular thing (scene, moment, etc.). For example, one of my favorite scenes in the movie is the bar fight where completely random creatures such as bounty hunters, western cowboys, hellhounds and more enter a royal rumble which strongly reminded me of the church massacre in “Kingsman”. Not to mention the fact that Alita is the pure incarnation of a female mecha-John Wick and not only because her reason to unleash her wrath is pretty similar to his but also because she easily deals 1vsN with giant walking and shooting turrets without having any weapons herself.

Step 1: Learn how to user your cyber body and remember what it’s like to have ancient tech-fighting skills. 

The coolest thing in this whole technological mess is that the gamer in me rose up as in 99% of the time what I was thinking was: “Damn, it would be really awesome if they made this into a game.” And in reality it’s exactly like that – “Alita: Battle Angel” is a futuristic hack’n’slash with a little bit more cutscenes and not only that but we also have semi-boss battles (such as the one with Grewishka) and a whole made-up sport in whose core is planted the idea of a sport battle royale – how much more actual this can get, especially when considering modern “pandemias” such as Fortnite?

Or said in other words, the plot may not be a technological miracle or something revolutional but it’s concealed in mystery and interactive enough to make you think that it’ll go in one direction but in reality to not go in that way in particular and leave the icing of the cake for the sequel. Gamers, anime fans, cyberpunk/sci-fi junkies, action freaks – “Alita: Battle Angel” tries to satisfy all of these’s needs and perhaps many others’ that I just haven’t thought about yet and even though it doesn’t really succeed in doing so all of time, I still believe that it does offer something for everybody and in its essence is a pretty relaxing and non-engaging entertainment for the fans of the seventh art.

What’s outside of the plot

The main protagonist in the movie is actually an actress (Rosa Salazar – in case you want to do some research later) whom I’ve never heard of before this film and who turned out to have quite some experience with such adaptations (more related to books but still adaptations) and it was pretty obvious she did as she managed to meet my expectations and, to be more specific, to achieve what I imagined to see as acting from a humanoid robot. The big eyes which were most people’s biggest complain before the movie premiere will stop bothering you from the 5th minute onwards and even if they don’t – c’mon, we are talking about a manga adaptation after all, haven’t you seen what the characters look like there? But let’s get back to the cast – the rest of the actors are really secondary characters and whichever angle we look it from, the only one who technically made some difference and fit properly into his part was Christoph Waltz (but we, as viewers, are his fan by default).

Jennifer Connelly and Mahershala Ali were terribly boring and their roles of being someone’s dolls suit them perfectly well simply because they were completely emotionless and even their influence in the plot development (which was still somehow important, by the way) didn’t change my mind. Ed Skrein was as stiff as he was in “Deadpool” and his 99% cyborg role with a “pretty” face was the only thing that excused him in a way as there was nothing humane in his persona anyways. The rest of the cast I won’t even mention as they were there purely to be disembodied by Alita or to fill the Iron City’s population. Actually, the coolest part of the acting crew is a cameo which is another hint towards an eventual second part and which, whether you like it or not, appears at the very end of the movie but is one of my personal favorite moments and fills me with even more hope for the future of the currently forming franchise.

Step 2: Become a mega badass in a male sport and show them how tech-basketball-rugby is really played.

Visually speaking, “Alita: Battle Angel” looks gorgeous. Honestly, this was probably the main reason for me to even start thinking about watching the movie on the big screen simply because Cameron’s interference in the making of the production was obvious since the trailer. The cyber parts and costumes themselves are not really anything impressive and literally in every other thing which is for some reason labeled as “cyberpunk” you’ll most likely see the same or similar cyborgs. Also, the ripping, cutting, disarming or whatever you like to call it of robo-parts would be much more effective and brutal if the movie’s rating wasn’t PG-13 but, after all, I get that the current trend is targeting a much broader audience which probably doesn’t even know the definition of the word “manga” so let’s say it’s okay.

And still, considering everything said so far, the visual effects in the movie are more than well done. It’s getting rarer and rarer for a movie to make me close my eyes after a specific 3D effect and in this one it happened 2 or 3 times. Furthermore, the people with a keener eye on what they’re watching will notice a few gems such as pretty cool slow-mo effects, hi-tech rides and the inevitable beautiful sceneries depicting the world after 500 years. To say it in an even shorter manner, the visual fiesta is what powers the whole cybernetics in the movie and gives it signs of life which in my eyes is a job well done.

The soundtrack’s headliner this time is Dua Lipa who has gathered a lot of attention recently (especially with the Grammys won) and I believe that her theme song for the movie fits it more than well and gives a good idea even with its video about what you can expect from the futuristic action. We can also notice the influence of Tom Holkenborg (a.k.a Junkie XL) who has not only worked on similar scores but also on some, related to videogames, which as I already mentioned is almost what “Alita: Battle Angel” is. The sound is entirely suited to the movie’s style and the cyber/techno beats and rhytms fit and complete the atmosphere pretty well, especially in the fighting scenes where Alita kicks butts like hell.

The final verdict

Step 3: Be an OP cyborg and challenge the final boss.

Now you’re a real battle angel! 

All in all, we live in times where there’ll always be haters. Some will complain that the movie doesn’t follow the original, others that it is too censored, others that the plot is too soapy and in a way, all of them will be right. Actually, though, the main thing with which Alita and the others had me is that they achieved the manga effect – leaving the end open (not only to interpretation but also purely plot-wise speaking) and making me want to see what will happen next even when I technically already know what’s about to go down. Or as it goes – it makes you eager for the next issue to come out only for you to be able to see whether your theories have found their confirmation and to feel the satisfaction knowing the creators have had the same thoughts as you.

Maybe there’s a lot more I can say about the movie but as Dua Lipa sings in the theme song: “This is not a swan song.” Well, I sincerely hope that this won’t turn into Rodriguez’ swan song (as I can say that “Alita: Battle Angel” is without a doubt his best movie since the first “Sin City”) but instead will be an origin story about the ugly duckling which will see its development in the next couple of years because in me, at least, they can now see a fan who wants to find out what happens next, and after that, and after that. And, in the end, isn’t that the whole idea behind movie entertainment?

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