Arts and Entertainment

The Next Wonder Woman is a Cyborg

A review of “Alita: Battle Angel,” a movie worth watching for the thrill.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

She has the face of an angel and the body of a warrior and her name is Alita. The instant Doctor Dyson Ido, a cyborg scientist and Alita’s soon-to-be-caretaker, examines his mangled cyborg remains in the light of the setting sun, a story about belief, love, the pursuit of dreams, and bravery arises. This movie’s incredibly simple story, great characters, and full-blown CGI has enabled “Alita: Battle Angel” to successfully cement itself in the film and animation world.

“Alita” is a product of 18 years’ worth of scriptwriting, negotiating, and waiting for James Cameron to make all his other movies first, and the intermission has been worthwhile. If this film had come out in 2009, when it was first slated for release, the mix of live action and computer animation may not have worked as well in portraying Alita and her friends’ rocky existences and vast environment, much less the same kind of unseen otherworldliness that Cameron’s famous “Avatar” (2009) movies boasted.

The film takes place in Iron City, the last great city on a war-ravaged Earth. In the skies above it is Zalem, a paradise for the wealthy, away from the rugged metropolis in which Doctor Ido (Christoph Waltz) finds Alita’s body. Alita, who is an entirely CGI-based character brought to life by Rosa Salazar (Bird Box, Maze Runner), is repaired by Ido, but she has no recollection of her past. When she is pitted in dangerous situations, however, Alita, almost predictably, turns out to be a martial arts master in “Panzer Kunst,” an ancient form of martial arts specifically programmed in age-old cyborgs like Alita. She slowly regains her memory as a soldier in the war that had tore apart Earth.

That’s not all, though. Alita falls in love with Hugo (Keean Johnson), a human boy who does shady work to try to earn his way into Zalem. Alita also uses her martial arts ability as a justification to become a Hunter-Warrior, a kind of mercenary who kills wanted people. Along the way, Alita pushes back against Ido, who acts like her father figure, while Ido’s former wife, a talented neurosurgeon called Chiren (Jennifer Connelly), seems determined to kill Alita. Doing so would restore the unchallenged corrupt business that Chiren and her boyfriend, Vector (Mahershala Ali), have in place, and could earn Chiren enough money to buy her way into Zalem.

While all these storylines aren’t as confusing when watching the movie itself, thinking about it can be a headache, as James Cameron’s muddled script seems more for show than for any insightful (and original) storytelling. That doesn’t mean director Robert Rodriguez hasn’t manned the helm well, though. Yes, there’s mediocre film technique in “Alita,” but despite the lack of formidable cinematography or even breakthrough VFX, Rodriguez makes sure that when you watch the movie, it’s digestible. It’s a perfect balance between action, drama, and open-world exploration while maintaining a fun wow factor, particularly when Alita makes her opponents regret underestimating her as just another pretty face.

Adding to the mix is the cast full of big names. Besides Waltz (Inglourious Basterds, Downsizing) and Salazar, A-listers like Connelly (Requiem for a Dream), Ali (Green Book, True Detective), and Lana Condor (Deadly Class) make up a formidable cast that play fairly believable characters, though ones representative of basic character tropes.

One of these characters, Waltz’s Ido, is a doctor struggling with his daughter’s death and names Alita after her as her surrogate. Alita herself is strong-willed and oftentimes naive as teenagers can be, at one point even taking out her mechanically-pulsing heart for Hugo to sell so that they can get to Zalem together. Hugo, proving to be the kind boy living in the slums who falls in love with Alita, refuses the heart. Moments like this, however, while endearing, are predictable. Hugo is “the boy next door,” Doctor Ido is the overprotective, shy father, and Chiren is the mother-turned-villain when her daughter dies who pairs up with Vector, himself a villain without a cause who is easily manipulated by the hidden government running Iron City from above. While some moments are cringey and detract from the movie, Cameron could have incorporated much more nuance into their scenes, considering the many years spent writing the script. The ending of the film also makes the whole thing seem like a sell-out as it makes way for a sequel when most viewers really just want to see an action movie that can be great on its own.

Ultimately, though, the film’s substance boils down to the action sequences. They’re sprinkled throughout the film and they are awesome. Being the superbeing she is, Alita not only defies gravity, but also can jump higher and further, run faster, hit harder, and perform satisfying killer moves that not even Keanu Reeves can keep up with. The action harks back to the martial arts style in films like “The Matrix” (1999) while featuring that same pounding, edge-of-your-seat fight sequences found in the likes of the Kingsman franchise.

In between the action, we learn a lot about Alita. Despite being a warrior cyborg, she’s also incredibly compassionate and tries to see the good in others, acting more humane than any of the humans in the film. Even though she’s living in a world of survival of the fittest, Alita manages to come out on top by following her guts and refusing to stoop to the other Hunter-Warriors’ levels by becoming a killer without emotions. Much like Wonder Woman, Alita is the person we’ve always wanted to be. She is a strong, underdog-turned-heroine. She won’t turn away someone in need of help and will break into a smile as fast as she will never take no for an answer.

While “Alita: Battle Angel” fails to provide any deep backstory to a history that seems essential in a movie paving way for more, oddly enough, the simplicity works. It leaves nothing to be thought out and invites viewers to just sit back and enjoy the ride. Watch it in IMAX for an even better experience that is sure to have you leaving the theater feeling like you were really experiencing the sights and sounds of Iron City with Alita. She’s got the face of an angel and the body of a warrior and she will return.