In one of the scenes of the movie “Alita-Battle Angel”, the protagonist Alita played by Rosa Salazar picks up a drop of blood of a little dog who is mercilessly killed by a half human (sort of human /half cyborg called Grewishka and puts the mark of a commando/rebel under her eyes to prepare for a hand to hand combat. The scene also brings to perspective the world of “Alita-Battle Angel” which echoes no mercy for living beings be it a human or an animal. Its this futuristic class based society divided by technology and fighting skills which is at the centre of this conflict in the movie. The film marks the return of thespian James Cameron’s writing and imagination coupled by the direction of Robert Rodriguez.
The Origin of “ALITA-Battle Angel”
Alita is based on a Manga comic book series created by Japanese writer Yukito Kishiro titled as “Gunnm” ( meaning Gun Dream) in 1990 and since then has been a big hit with the Asian and global audiences. James Cameron bought the rights to the book in 2003 but it took him 16 years to get it made into a movie. The comic book and story of Alita is essentially a “Cyberpunk” genre of science fiction. Cyberpunk stories talk of a contradictory world of a fascinating combination of “High Tech” and “Low Lives”. Think of it as a futuristic world technology disruption has created a world of really high tech slum dwellers who are bounty hunters, contract killers and thieves. They might be poor but are armed with high grade sophisticated weapons largely engineered in their bodies (Cyborgs). I feel that over 75% of the characters in the movies are cyborgs.
The film talks of a world set in the year 2536 devastated by apocalyptic wars called “The Fall’. In this world there are two civilizations. One is called “Zalem” which is like a floating city where all the rich and influential people live and then there is “The Iron City” which is like a slum where middle class and degenerates, criminals live together. The People of Iron City dream of living in Zalem. Alita is a “Breserker” cyborg warrior who has died in “The Fall” war as “99” whose body is found in a trash area by Dr David Ido (Christoph Waltz) who rebuilds her as her brain is humanly powerful and still alive. Dr Ido recreates her and gives her the name “Alita” taken from his daughter who was a cripple and who died at the hands of a rogue cyborg. Its these artificial prosthetics which Dr Ido does and specializes in the Iron City.
The story then moves with Alita exploring her new world with no memory of her past. Alita gets romantically involved with Hugo who teaches her sport of Motorball. She then gets into conflicts with Grewishka and various other negative characters like Zapan ( Ed Skrein) and Tanji (Jorge Londeberg Jr.) and also develops a special skill at playing Motorball, the deadly game which resembles skateboarding where the losers are killed in cold blood in the arena itself. Here she encounters the antagonist Vector (Mahershala Ali) who produces and rigs the Motorball at his whims and fancies. Vector works for NOVA, the creator of the NOVA and the main antagonist of the film. The film chronicles Alita’s discovery of her past coinciding with her present.
The Look and Feel of ALITA – Battle Angel
The film borrows its look and feel heavily from leading films of the cyberpunk/ sci-fi genre of the 80s and 90s. One can see reference points from “Blade Runner”, “ Total Recall”, “Terminator”. There are also touches from “Speed Racer” , “Roller Ball” and other films featuring Death Sports.
However, James Cameron’s super brain ( which produced cyborgs in 1980’s in “Terminator” and “Aliens”) is clearly far ahead of its time. In this film, Cameron introduces some breathtaking action sequences featuring Rosa Salazar. The use of “performance capture” technique which essentially encompasses multiple sensors on the body of the actor tracked by dozens of cameras on the sets creating a 3D image of the actor on the big screen is all over the film. One look at the stunts performed by Alita and you will feel that “The Avengers”. Her repeated duels with Grewishka are worth watching again and again.
To stay authentic to the story line, Rodriguez and Cameron have enlarged the eyes of Alita to give the trademark “Manga” and Anime look on her face. It looks breathtakingly beautiful.
In addition to this, a detailed work has gone into creating the “Breserker” suit costume of Alita. Each part of her cyborg self is built with ivory colored and stylized prosthetics look humanly and very advanced. The steel skeleton of the “Zapan” character featuring the face of himself in a mythic style engraved on his back. “Grewishka” sports hands which have “snake wires” coming out of it which can attack to a mammoth distance with stealth. One can never forget the “one wheel motor bike” which Hugo and Alita use in the film.
These are all testaments to James Cameron vision and ability to imagine worlds which have never existed.
Performances of ALITA-Battle Angel
The film is led ably by Rosa Salazar who is in almost every frame. Salazar successfully like chameleon changes from a “babe in the woods” to a “ cold blooded badass “ effortlessly. Her scenes with Hugo are beautiful and she looks emotionally captivating.
Christoph Waltz as Dr Ido gives a measured performance as Alita’s architect as he too has a lot of shades in his character.
Mahershala Ali as Vector is devilishly calm and executes people at the drop of a hat. He gives Evil a believable face in this unpredictable world. There are honourable mentions of Jennifer Connelly as Chiren and Dr Ido’s estranged wife and Michelle Rodrigues as Alita’s former leader in the resistance.
I will give this movie a 10/10 for the mind bending and visually stunning world it creates. But somewhere one gets a feeling that the characters gets overshadowed by the visual themselves. There is also a lack of a more worthy opponent. There are villains but they are not emotionally driven or tactically brilliant. Go and watch this movie for James Cameron’s brilliant rendition of a world which never existed. On the whole I give 7 out of 10 for the film!
- Rahul Gupta, an avid movie and TV buff who learnt movie production at New York Film Academy and worked as a talent manager at The Gotham Group in Hollywood. In addition he runs a kids brand outfit and a start up fundraising practice in New Delhi.