Alita: Battle Angel may have started off as the passion project of James Cameron, but due to his continued involvement with the Avatar franchise he passed the directing duties off to Robert Rodriguez. Whilst Cameron could not find the time to direct he did co-write the script along with Laeta Kalogridis and Rodriguez.
Based upon a Japanese manga, Gunnm, Alita stars Rosa Salazar as the titular Alita, a cyborg girl found and rebuilt by cyborg scientist Dr. Dyson Ido. Live action adaptations of manga and anime have historically been bad. Really bad. So it is a pleasant surprise that halfway through Alita I found myself thoroughly enjoying it. And then it reaches a point that feels almost like an ending, but there is a whole other half to the film. And that is where Alita starts to lose its way.
While the first half may have been a little generic everything else in the film was helping to elevate that. The world that is created is so cool and unique, with stunningly gorgeous production and character designs, filled with insane anime ideas, and is a world that you genuinely want to learn more about. And this world is beautifully realised by the stunning visual effects. Rodriguez to helps bring this to life superbly, his direction, particularly in the numerous action sequence is superb, with the action never feeling stale or repetitive, but constantly new and original.
But as the film moves into its second half it becomes more and more of a jumbled mess, completely losing its flow. While the first half was about introducing you to this world and establishing the threats that Alita will face the second half becomes more and more focused on setting up a full franchise of following films, which given the box office predictions for it seems unlikely. It loses its clear story and seems to jump around as though it was trying to fit in several chapters of the manga all at once to get to the point they wanted to leave it before a sequel.
Thankfully some of the better aspects of the film are still in place to just about hold Alita together, particularly the lead performance of Rosa Salazar. She is wonderful as Alita, capturing her innocence and naivety to the world, but also Alita’s steel and fighting spirit as her warrior side comes out through the film. With an incredibly talented supporting cast, lead by Christoph Waltz as Dr Ido, and with Mahershala Ali as villain Vector there is plenty of great acting talent involved.
But it is a shame that some like Ali ends up feeling wasted in the role. He feels completely underutilised and given very little to do. Someone who is given plenty of screen time is Keean Johnson as Hugo, Alita’s love interest. However he never manages to elevate this beyond being a bland and generic love interest who frankly just isn’t very interesting. Given that his character’s relationship with Alita is one of the main driving points in the film he really needs to be more than that.
Alita: Battle Angel may be the best live action manga adaptation to date, particularly as there is a lot going for it, but it cannot help but feeling like a bit of a letdown, particularly as it got off to such a strong start. I would potentially be interested in seeing where the story goes next on film, but right now that is looking very unlikely.