A Cyberpunk Action film!
Alita: Battle Angel, released in February of 2019 is an American adaptation of a manga series from the 90s called Gunnm which was written by Yukito Kishiro. Essentially, it is a cyberpunk action film starring Rosa Salazar as a cyborg named Alita who awakens with no memory of her past, and who sets out on a journey of self-discovery.
I saw this movie several months ago. I do have to admit that, originally, I had no real interest in seeing this film. However, a couple who are friends of mine in Cary got bored one night and so, they went to see it. They came back describing the film excitedly, impressed with its use of live actors combined with really cool CGI and martial arts.
I guess this should not be too surprising since the film was co-produced by James Cameron and directed by Robert Rodriguez. It is also the first film produced by Lightstorm Entertainment since Avatar.
Both friends stated that while Alita: Battle Angel certainly had its flaws, they really enjoyed the movie. So, what could I do at that point? I had to go see it. I recently saw the DVD of this film on a shelf in a local store, and it reminded my of how much I actually did enjoy this move. Hence, … this blog post.
It is the year 2563, 300 years after the Earth is devastated by a catastrophic interplanetary war known as “the Fall.” Zalem is a beautiful city inhabited by an upper class ruling elite, ruled by an immortal evil scientist named Nova, who can hack into human-brains and speak through their bodies.
Dr. Ido, a cyborg specialist banished fro Zalem to Iron City, is scavenging for parts amongst the trash dropped from Zalem into the massive scrapyard of Iron City. Iron City is where the “unwashed masses” live and fight to survive. Ido discovers a disembodied female cyborg with its human brain alive and intact. Dr. Ido attaches a new cyborg body he had originally built for his now deceased daughter to the brain, and names the cyborg “Alita” after his daughter. When Alita awakens, she has no memory of her past.
Alita soon meets Hugo, a young human male who quickly befriends her. Hugo’s dream is to get out of Iron City and up to Zalem. But, in order to achieve that, Hugo has developed a dark sideline job. He steals body parts from cyborgs for a man called Vector, who owns the gladiator-like Motorball games and is the defacto ruler of Iron City.
Dr. Chiren, a brilliant cyborg scientist and Ido’s estranged wife, (mother to their deceased daughter, the original Alita) now works for Vector, creating and updating cyborgs for the Motorball games. Vector, who has a connection withe Nova, has promised to reward Dr. Chiren by sending her back to Zalem in payment for working for him.
One night Alita, trying to discover her past, follows Ido who is ambushed by a gang of cyborg serial killers. Ido is injured, and Alita surprising everyone, fights to protect him using “Panzer Kunst” (German for “armor art”), a lost combat art once used by Berserkers, the deadly warriors of the United Republic of Mars. Alita kills two of the cyborgs and damages their leader, Grewishka, who retreats underground.
Ido reveals that he is a Hunter-Warrior, a bounty hunter who tracks down and eliminates criminal cyborgs and, if needed, the occasional criminal human. It becomes clear he does this to atone for past mistakes while a citizen of Zalem and to fund his clinic where he provides free medical care to cyborgs.
Alita believing that being a Hunter-Warrior might help her rediscover her past, wants to sign up. However, Ido discourages her from becoming a Hunter-Warrior. This frustrates Alita.
Then, while on an adventure with Hugo and some friends outside the walls of Iron City, Alita finds a highly advanced cyborg body in a crashed 300-year-old spaceship outside the city. The spaceship seemingly responds to her presence. Her friends tell her the space ship is a relic from “the Fall.” Ido, however, recognizing that the cyborg body belonged to a Berserker, refuses to install Alita in it.
Angry at Ido, Alita goes off by herself and registers as a Hunter-Warrior. At the Kansas Bar, a hangout for Hunter-Warriors, she and Hugo attempt to recruit others to her cause … taking down the serial killer cyborg, Grewishka. Another Hunter-Warrior, Zapan, who is very narcissistic and impressed with himself, belittles and provokes Alita, who beats him easily in a fight. Their fight, however, triggers a massive bar brawl which continues until Ido arrives on the scene and intervenes.
She’s got the face of an angel but a body built for battle!
At the last minute, an upgraded Grewishka arrives and challenges Alita to a duel, revealing that he has been sent by Vector to destroy her. Despite her awesome combat skills, Alita’s body is sliced up by Grewishka’s chain-bladed fingers. Ido, Hugo and another Hunter-Warrior with cyborg dogs help Alita and force Grewishka to retreat. Ido realizes his mistake and transplants Alita into the Berserker body.
Now in love with Hugo, Alita enters a Motorball tryout race hoping to win the prize money to help Hugo pay his way into Zalem. At the same time, because of his feelings for Alita, Hugo decides to quit his secret job. He goes to confront his partners and end their association.
When Hugo meets his partners, Zapan appears. He murders Hugo’s partners but Hugo manages to escape and calls to Alita for help. Zapan frames Hugo for the killings and pursues Hugo to kill him.
Alita abandons the race to rescue Hugo and finds him just as Zapan does. Zapan mortally wounds Hugo. Dr. Chiren, who has been having second thoughts and is following in the background, saves Hugo by temporarily attaching his severed head to Alita’s life support system. Zapan sees through the ruse and attempts to stop Alita, who in the ensuing fight, seizes his weapon, a prized Damascus blade, and proceeds to slice most of his Zapan’s off.
Ido transplants Hugo’s head onto a cyborg body and tells Alita that Vector’s offer to help Hugo buy his way into Zalem was a lie. As an exiled citizen of Zalem, Ido knows that citizens of Iron City can only enter Zalem by becoming a Motorball champion.
Alita storms the Factory and confronts Vector, who reveals that Chiren has been harvested for her organs for her betrayal. Vector summons Grewishka, but Alita’s new Berserker body allows her to easily destroy him. She forces Nova to speak to her through Vector. When Nova threatens to harm her friends, Alita fatally stabs Vector.
Ido tells Alita that Hugo is attempting to get to Zalem by climbing a cargo tube attached to the city. Alita catches up to him and pleads with him to return with her. He agrees, but a serrated defensive weapon dropped by Nova shreds his body and throws him off the tube. Alita catches him but cannot pull him up. The arm she has grabbed is badly damaged and separates. Hugo thanks Alita for saving him just before falling to his death.
Months later, Alita is the star of the Motorball tournament and well on her way to becoming a Motorball Champion. Cheered on by the crowd, she pledges vengeance by pointing her sword toward Zalem, where Nova watches from above, a haughty look on his face.
My thoughts …
I thoroughly enjoyed this film. While the story line might be considered less than perfect, the creation of the story with its human actors, their blending with CGI, all contribute to creating a stunning and strong visual effect. While rated PG-13, the movie contains a lot of stunning violence and for some, may even be laughably extreme; similar to Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill movies. However, the CGI and cyborg factors also tend to soften its impact.
And, in truth, in Iron City, Cybernetics isn’t just for cyborg serial killers or Motorball players. The filmmakers brilliantly integrate it into the bustling lives of Iron City’s everyday citizens. For instance, there is a simple street musician playing a double guitar with three arms. And, there’s a simple romantic beauty to the animation where Alita offers her exposed cyborg heart to Hugo, a heart that simultaneously pumps red blood to her brain and a blue fluid to her machine parts.
This move also provides a very interesting take on one’s ability to be comfortable in their own body, whatever form that body happens to take.
While this film is certainly not for everyone, it does have its attractions and successes including being nominated for Bandung File Festival for Imported Film 2019, Satellite Award for Best Visual Effects 2020, and Satellite Award for Best Motion Picture 2020.
View the Official Trailer!