Last Monday, I was invited by 20th Century Fox to watch Alita: Battle Angel. Today, I finally review it and discuss the movie on a few levels (like I usually do). Note: I watched this particular session in 3D (more on this later) and I haven’t read the manga (yet).
Quick warning: Spoilers are in the Astro Boy section
What is Alita: Battle Angel about?
The manga Gunnm by Yukito Kishiro is the source material for Alita. Alita is about a cyborg named Alita who is found in a junkyard by Dr Dyson (no, not of vacuum fame). Throughout, we get introduced to her and the city she now lives in Iron City. As expected, she spends a majority of the movie trying to find and define herself. And, she also spends time sticking it to “The Man”, so to speak.
Manga/anime fans: set your expectations straight before going in
You shouldn’t expect the movie to be manga or anime-like in its presentation or tone. If you read enough manga or watch enough anime, you’ll know what I mean. It’s definitely got a vibe to the cinematography, pacing, and dialogue that you wouldn’t find in Japanese media.
Mind you, this doesn’t subtract from the whole experience. It’s more so a heads up for manga/anime fans like myself who will want to set their expectations correctly before watching.
Gorgeous visuals but 3D is a bit of a letdown
First, let me get one particular pain point out of the way. Personally, I don’t like watching things in 3D. I’ve done it twice before and I always find that my eyes can’t focus well on the image. Alita would have been fine with just 2D.
3D viewing experience aside, I really enjoyed the world-building. I enjoy a well put-together sci-fi/fantasy world where you really feel the environment.
I liked how the special effects felt completely in place. We’re getting to that stage in technology and artistry that people meld CGI and real-world actors together well.
I like the story
I’ll be honest: I enjoy seeing a young girl kick ass. I enjoyed seeing Alita want to learn about herself. I enjoyed seeing her want to improve herself and not be fussed by the fact that she’s a cyborg. Representation-wise, I found watching her character empowering as a female minority. It’s great to see someone who keeps being underestimated rise to the occasion.
Given the pacing, I think it could’ve been a shorter movie (runtime is around 2 hours). Mind you, I do enjoy the fact that character development wasn’t rushed for Alita. I do wish they spent more time on Dr Dyson because he seems like a fascinating character. However, I can see the way they set up the movie and its ending that it’s ready for a sequel.
Reminds me a lot of Astro Boy
I was fortunate to have watched Astro Boy as a child. The iteration I grew up with was the 2003 series. (I’m also pretty sure that I saw snippets of the 80s series at some stage).
For those that for whoever reason don’t know Astro Boy (seriously, get in on it)… The story is about a robot boy (with advanced AI and thus emotions) named Astro created by Dr Tenma. Astro, other than helping his friends out, he also helps protect Metro City (2003 series) from baddies.
Here is where my spoiler section happens: for both Alita and Astro Boy.
For funsies, let me list the similarities between the two that I couldn’t help but think about while watching Alita:
- Young robotic/cyborg kids or teen as the main protagonist (both have particularly strong feels)
- Floating city (note: Metro City floats in the 2009 Astro Boy film)
- Seemingly genius doctors using their skills to metaphorically bring their dead children back to life
Of course, you should note that the Astro Boy manga was first released way back in 1952 while Gunnm was first released in 1990. In any case, once you’ve watched enough sci-fi, you’ll see many common themes run through various media that typically define sci-fi as a genre.
Alita is not the kind of film to knock your socks off (even though it’s an action sci-fi). By that, I mean it’s more introspective in feel. Like any good sci-fi, it makes you question socioeconomic norms, politics, gender stereotypes and <insert important topic here>. Personally, I would’ve liked the emotional impact to be stronger at certain points.
I reckon teenage me would’ve enjoyed the hell out of it though. To see a young girl represented on screen who is independent, powerful and courageous would’ve been great for younger me. It’s that kind of coming-of-age movie with a female lead that I think teenage girls and young women should definitely watch more of and be inspired by.
So, if you’ve got young women in your life, they’ll probably relate to the movie well and will enjoy it more than others.