I will be 564 by the time this movie is supposed to take place. There will be a war that ravaged about 90% of the Earth, except at that point, there will be other livable environments for humans. Or at least functionable for recycling carbon dioxide, it seems. The only city where anyone can feel entitled is Zalem, a city situated a thousand feet in the air by thousand-foot tall suspenders. Okay, before I continue, this is based off of a 1990 manga series I’d never heard of prior, so if you’re a big fan, most of this stuff you’ll be familiar with. The way Zalem disposes of stuff they don’t want or need anymore is they dump it in the middle of their shadow, a place of slums, rust, and never-ending adventure. One day, Zalem curiously dumps a dissembled female cyborg with only her head, chest, and, this is the weird part for Dr. Dyson Ido, a functioning brain. That’s never happened in any re-scavenged junk from Zalem. Dr. Ido and her ex-wife Dr. Chiren repairs her and takes her in, naming her Alita. She has, as you may expect, no memories of her life in Zalem, but she thinks she may have been fighting some sort of battle way back when. She also adapts an instant love for oranges, able to eat like everyone else thanks to her digestive function. Within Iron City, she meets Hugo (Keean Johnson) and a squad of teens carrying their own across the region, including in Motorball, a sport that’s a little like football (Western or European could both apply) meets racecar driving, or roller skate driving. Alita tries the game out with Hugo and all seems more than fine...until she realizes not only is the city led by a tripping corrupt cyborg named Grewishka, but someone is out to get her because of what she is capable of, so whether or not she’s fine living in Iron City, doesn’t matter. It’s battle angel time!
Alita has the same terrific traits as the DCEU’s Wonder Woman, except a special trait is her face. We see cyborgs and creatures with the craziest claws and features, but all of them have the same faces we all do. Yet Alita’s face is like no other, and the filmmakers took a huge gamble changing it, especially since it kind of makes her unexplainably look more Japanese, sending the message maybe a Japanese actress should’ve had the role. But the CGI used is perfect, and by the end, I can’t think of why anyone wouldn’t embrace how they made the character look from the neck up.
The action also brings one how-did-they-do-that after another. I love stunts in movies, especially when they also generate some surprises, and the climax led to some action scenes and stunts that made an ending that did not take any easy routes. There is also a twist involving friends Alita makes, which is revealed to us early on, and the twist makes us think about the people around us, and why they would keep tough secrets, about how many friends we’d be left with if we knew all their secrets, and if we’d be willing to forgive them if they did something personally bad. But either way, Salazar as Alita carries this entire movie, and the pace that keeps the time whooshing by, alongside the wonder at how she’s going to beat the bulky villain next, is nothing short of a treat.
Now, one little hiccup with all this emerges one little problem. You remember the premise and the important scenes easily enough, especially the end climax. The thing is, some of these names, like Grewishka and Dr. Chiren and Tanji, are kind of like the names in After Earth (Kitai, Cypher, Faia, Senshi), where they’re just so crazy that just reading them is a little brain-scrambling. Kind of like how crazy the environment is. Everywhere you look, something huge is taking place. It’s a little exhausting. And the villains are thin, making the cause for what the protagonists are doing less layered than it’s supposed to. Mahershala Ali plays the only antagonist not alive by armor, yet he also has reasoning as to why he’s the most notable villain in the long run of the story. And honestly...he seemed to be underacting and his character was just the bland villain.
But I’d say Alita: Battle Angel is definitely up there with Endgame as one of the most popcorn-worthy movies of the year, and undebatably one of the most tremendously directed.