Ali: Bat Ang


I have to admit, I walked out of Alita: Battle Angel half-liking it. It’s set in a somewhat creative world where the oppressed citizens are dominated by a floating city overhead, and the only way out is to win a championship game of some kind of ultra-violent murderball. Dystopian society: check.

For some reason, an awful lot of the citizens of this city are missing limbs or other body parts, but they’ve been replaced by advanced cybernetic prosthetics. Some people have had their bodies entirely replaced, and are just human faces on bizarrely complex robots. Ubiquitous futuristic technology: check.

Christof Walz is a guy (all body parts human) who has the job of repairing all those prosthetics, making him indispensible. He’s also moonlights as a hunter-warrior, going about collecting bounties on bad guys. He finds a head in a junkyard — the brain is still alive, somehow — and installs it in a new robot body. That’s Alita. She’s got giant eyes, but is otherwise a pretty, teenaged gamin. Main character camping happily in the uncanny valley: check.

She’s super good at fighting, beating up all the bad cyborgs, ripping their arms off, crushing their human heads, etc. Much fight choreography. Much balletic violence. Super zippy CGI. Action movie tropes: check with a sword slash and an explosion.

Another bonus: Jennifer Connelly. She’s still beautiful, but she’s matured into an icy, stern, scary kind of older beauty. That time with the goblin king has turned her fey. I love her work.

So I’m enjoying it for what it is, as long as it’s swooping along kinetically with CGI fights and weirdly fascinating anime robot girl doing her thing. But it had 3 big problems.

They killed the dog. I’m not happy with that.

The love interest just came out of nowhere, and the boy did not have the charisma to warrant the girl abruptly (and literally) offering him her heart. It was stupid and superfluous and compromised Alita’s character. I wish a giant cyborg had murdered him on first sight, rather than the dog.

Worst of all, the ending. There wasn’t one. It just stops cold on the brink of the big battle in the murderball arena. I practically got whiplash, slamming on the brakes that hard. This was clearly a two-parter, at least, and there’s no warning of that anywhere, and it was a risky enough venture that it’s not at all certain the sequel will be made.

It’s half a movie, more like a mega-elaborate over-long trailer for a story in development. If you’ve ever wanted to watch a Margaret Keane waif slice a cyborg juggernaut in half, lengthwise, but aren’t worried about seeing a plot resolution, this is the movie for you.

Comments

  1. kenbakermn says

    The whole thing sounds pretty cheesy. But you know what? Sometimes cheesy can be pretty entertaining. Think I’ll go see it.

  2. elfsternberg says

    I haven’t seen the movie, but that’s kinda the way the comic book went. Including the cliff-hangers at the end of every major arc.

  3. buddhabuck says

    The manga it is based on is too long to put into a 2-hour movie, so some adaptations had to be made. The 3 problems you see were basically introduced in that adaptation. Well, almost.

    Multiple sequential story arcs in the manga were time-compressed and overlapped in the movie. Too many, in my opinion. As such, she was introduced to hew love interest when she was too brand new (as opposed to having established herself), her relationship to motorball was drastically changed, Nova was introduced in a big way before he was in the books, etc.

    I don’t know why they killed the dog. In the same scene in the manga, the bad-guy merely kidnapped a baby and later tried to eat it.

  4. Gregory Greenwood says

    ****SPOILER WARNING****

    I thought it was good fun, and Rosa Salazar, the actress who did the voice work and motion capture for Alita, managed to breathe a great deal of life and humanity into the character. I haven’t seen a mocap actor do such a good job since Andy Serkis.

    The movie is essentially an incomplete story, since Alita has yet to face the real bad guy behind all the villainy on display who favours operating from a safe distance through… lets just call them ‘puppets’, but as buddhabuck observes @ 3 the source material is far too long and convoluted to be adapted in a single movie, and James Cameron and co are clearly angling for a multiple movie series to cover the full arc of the character. Whether or not the film will make enough money to allow that to happen remains to be seen.

  5. Gregory Greenwood says

    buddhabuck @ 3

    Multiple sequential story arcs in the manga were time-compressed and overlapped in the movie. Too many, in my opinion. As such, she was introduced to hew love interest when she was too brand new (as opposed to having established herself)… I don’t know why they killed the dog. In the same scene in the manga, the bad-guy merely kidnapped a baby and later tried to eat it.

    I think James Cameron was heavily influenced by the 1993 anime adaptation of the original manga, and several of those changes flow from that adaptation, like the relationship with Yugo happening earlier and the death of the poor pooch, though in the anime it was really unpleasantly – in truth gratuitously – bloody and violent. Be glad Cameron decided to tone it down.

  6. microraptor says

    One thing that was touched on a little in the movie but was a much bigger theme in the manga, at least during the arcs covered, was Alita’s conflict with Igo over his desire to protect and shelter her in opposition to her wishes to learn more about herself and be her own person. I wish more had been made of that.

  7. says

    Another bonus: Jennifer Connelly.

    That’s the first good argument I’ve heard in favor of this movie. So far, everything I’ve seen about it tells me that it was made for people who aren’t me. Pointless CGI bullshit, with no plot, character, or sense. It’s almost as if the advertising people are deliberately trying to tell me to stay away.

  8. says

    The eyes are pretty much the beginning and end of the story for me. I won’t watch it. But I’ve heard some youths defending it, so I thought, hm, maybe it’s a generational thing. But then our tentacruel overlord says he liked it. What am I to think?

  9. pacal says

    I saw the movie today and I liked it. The lead character was actually quite good and the action scenes over the top fun. Actually the dog getting killed didn’t bother me much. Not because the dog was annoying, the dog was actually quite cute and lovable. It didn’t bother me much because I have seen far to many movies in which the pooch survives all sorts of horror mainly because the pooch is cute and you can’t have an adorable doggie get killed. Humans on the other hand…. A particularly gruesome example of this sick trope is the film 2012. So it was actually a bit refreshing that the nice doggie who no one in their right mind would dislike get horribly killed for no good reason, and provide a bit of motivation to our heroine.

  10. Scott Simmons says

    Expectations come into play a lot. I came in expecting it to be pretty bad and concerned it would be awful, and then it was actually pretty decent and I left happy.

  11. Akira MacKenzie says

    For some reason, an awful lot of the citizens of this city are missing limbs or other body parts, but they’ve been replaced by advanced cybernetic prosthetics. Some people have had their bodies entirely replaced, and are just human faces on bizarrely complex robots. Ubiquitous futuristic technology: check.

    Bionic replacement as a means of enhancement or even as fashion is a pretty standard trope of the 80s Cyperpunk genre the Alita manga came from. e.g. The trench-coated, mirrorshade-wearing, ”street samurai” with a Yamaha-Panasonic cyber-arm with improved myomar and a built in sub-machine gun.

  12. lochaber says

    I really love the source material, and have been waiting for this live-action version to come out for over a decade. I’m pretty happy with it as an adaptation.
    Most of the story is from the first two books of the 8-9 volume manga, with some elements/characters from the third and fourth volumes.
    There was a bit of plot squishing and stripping out of details and backstory and whatnot, but I think that’s pretty typical for an adaptation, and again, I’m happy with the overall results. I felt like they did a decent job of maintaining character’s personalities and such. Also, their were a lot of little details put in to appeal to the fans/nerds – almost all of the names of the various motorball contestants were at least minor characters in the third/fourth book, and there were some specific quotes/action sequences right out of the manga.

    As to the love interest, I don’t think it was well-fleshed-out in the manga either, and I took it to be at least partially youthful infatuation. There may not be a lot of substance there, but it’s still important to her, because it was her first love, and she does reflect on it a handful of times throughout the manga, years, and even decades later.

    Not much to say on the ending, the manga basically ends with her still on the cable, and then skips a few months or so forward in the next book. The anime has a nice/sweet little closure bit, but it involved some of the backstory that was cut for the movie, and although I appreciated it, I don’t think it’s necessary or even appreciably adds to the story.

    I am kinda curious where the sequels (hoping they get them…) are going to go.

    But, yeah, they changed a lot of stuff for this, and most of it I’m happy with – like, in the manga, Ido just happens to have the berserker body lying around in his stockpile, and I rather like that in the movie Alita finds/recovers it. Also, in the manga, Iron City/The Scrapyard/Zalem/Tiphares is located over what is today Kansas Ciity, and I believe in the movie it’s relocated to equatorial South America (not sure if a specific location was given…), which I think makes more sense for the basic space elevator premise. I think there maybe was some mitigating issues in the manga to excuse the non-equatorial location, but I can’t remember them off-hand, and didn’t quite understand the mechanics and such, so…

    Overall, I’m really happy this movie finally got made and released, I’m pretty happy with how they adapted it, and I hope they get to do the sequels, and am really curious to see where they go with the sequels.
    Most of the positive reviews I’ve read have been from fans of the source material, but I’ve also ran across quite a few people not familiar with the source material who like the movie, so I’m really happy about that.

    I’m also just kinda enjoying geeking out about this with anyone even remotely interested. :)

  13. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    Re 15:
    the site in the manga explains the name of the Bounty Hunter’s hangout Bar: KANSAS.
    I thought the cliff-hanger was quite appropriate ending to this chapter. It left very few dangling threads, and clear direction for the follow-up. This was much better than expected. Throughout the showing I kept making associations with earlier sci-fi stories, that I’m pretty sure were only my associations, and not real callouts.
    The only detail I question was the 300 year delta between the character’s origin and her restoration.
    Personally I’ll rack it up to a typo of an extra zero. IE 30 years is much more sensible to me.
    oh well. Everything else about it Rocked. I recommend it.

  14. A. Noyd says

    lochaber (#15)

    As to the love interest, I don’t think it was well-fleshed-out in the manga either, and I took it to be at least partially youthful infatuation. There may not be a lot of substance there, but it’s still important to her, because it was her first love, and she does reflect on it a handful of times throughout the manga, years, and even decades later.

    Yeah, the relationship in the manga definitely had no chemistry. I saw it more as Gally¹ attempting to get away from the destructive nature of her warrior instincts and have a more “normal” life. Only, that meant she had to make herself vulnerable like all those without her abilities. Basically, she talks herself into having a youthful infatuation to make herself “normal,” and then finds out how “normal” is infinitely worse than what she was trying to escape.

    It could have been done a lot better², but the romance wasn’t really the point.
    …………
    ¹ Fuck this “Alita” bullshit.
    ² In the manga. I haven’t seen the movie.

  15. lochaber says

    slithey tove @17
    In the manga, the artist/author (Yukito Kishiro) makes a lot of references to other scifi stuff, mostly in the background art, so there very well may be some callouts to other works. I don’t remember the exact timeline in the manga, but there was a 200-300 year gap twixt her first getting ripped apart and dumped on the scrap heap, and when Doc Ido finds her. There are a couple possible explanations as to how her brain survived in the manga, but mostly I just go with suspension of disbelief. I think it’s integral to the overall arc of the story to have her from a distant past. A bit different with the movie/manga, but I’m happy with how they handled it.

    A. Noyd @18

    that makes sense. If you decide to see it, I’d like to hear your opinion of the movie

  16. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    re 20:
    re the 300 year gap: makes more sense that her remnants were held for that amount of time BEFORE being dumped on the scrap heap. The aspect with which I had difficulty was it being there for so long when scavengers were continually scouring it for useful pieces to restore. My mistake to not consider it was held and only recently dumped. Thank you for clearing that up.
    That only leave Dragon (Desty Nova) as more than 300. Not really a problem with their advanced medical prosthetic technologies.
    The love interest I considered the usual form of “puppy love”, latching onto the first friendly face that appears to be a nice person to get to know. I know what it is like to be robbed of memories by a TBI, so I understand her desperation to make knew memories to fill in the void. Which is wy I hhad no problem with the sudden appearance of her attraction to Hugo.

  17. lochaber says

    slithey tove @21

    I worded that poorly, she was sitting in the scrap heap for ~300 years. There’s two versions in the manga (in the 90s, the author fell ill and suddenly ended it, and then restarted in the 00s, retconning most of the last volume) – one she falls out of orbit, and another she’s captured, tried, and then chucked in the trash heap.

    I don’t want to get too spoilery, but the surface has been pretty much cut off from the rest of the solar system (Mars, Jupiter, Venus, and several asteroids are all colonised)since the war, and there is a lot more advanced tech upwell.

  18. kiki says

    OK, sorry to nerd out, but this certainly seems like an appropriate venue for it: in later volumes, the manga actually turns into a surprisingly interesting dystheist allegory, with an evil “god” character who is opposed, in different ways, by a “Christ” character and a “Satan” character. See if any of these ring a bell:

    “Dr Nova” – genius biotechnologist, cyberneticist and nanotechnologist. Effectively immortal due to restorative nanobots and a seemingly endless supply of backup bodies and brains. Able to resurrect the dead and even create life from scratch. Utterly devoid of compassion and seems to create life just so he can watch it suffer. Calls himself a “karmic scientist”, which basically seems to involve fucking people over and seeing how they deal with it.

    “Kaos” – son of Dr Nova. Has the ability of psychometry (reading emotions by touching objects), which extends exponentially so that when his bare feet touch the floor, he can literally feel the world’s pain. Hates his father but is scared to oppose him. Wants to build a tower (called “Babel”, natch) to the sky city so that both communities can live in harmony.

    “Den” – the “Demon King of the Plains”. A 50-foot-tall cyborg complete with horn and hooves. Utterly militant and ruthless – wants to shoot down the sky city, destroying both communities so that a new world can be built on the ashes.

    There’s even a “Lilith”-type character, Dr Nova’s vampy, flesh-obsessed bodyguard/lover, who we see being “reconstituted” – bones, muscles, organs and all – in a vat of biotechnological goop. (Reminds me of some feminist interpretations of Lilith that I’ve read, where Adam is disgusted that she was made “from dirt” like he was.)

    After this the story turns into a seemingly never-ending martial arts space opera which, while not quite so meaningful, is wonderfully imaginative and truly “epic” in the literal sense of the word. The whole series is one of my favourite things ever written, although to be fair I’m not very well-read…

  19. says

    I actually enjoyed the film, though I also like the source material. I suspect for those not familiar this may be a forgettable popcorn flick.

    Something I have not seen mentioned here is that they mashed together about the first 2 1/2 books with the anime, then remixed it so the story actually worked! They left out a brain eating worm cyborg taking over bodies, but what ya gonna do to keep it PG-13?

  20. says

    I remember reading the manga years ago. The last book, where they went to the utopian society where people had their brains replaced, was interesting and would have made a neat movie on its own. The rest of it was boring and incomprehensible, and seemed like just an excuse to draw things which looked cool but made no sense. I think I’ll sit this out.

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