Mon | Apr 22, 2019

‘Alita: Battle Angel’ – one of a kind

Published:Monday | February 18, 2019 | 2:02 AMDamian Levy/Gleaner Writer
This image released by Twentieth Century Fox shows the character Alita in a scene from ‘Alita: Battle Angel.’

From the visionary minds of James Cameron and Robert Rodriguez comes a film that is very much of two minds. It’s the story of a young cyborg girl trying to find her place in the world, and the tale of her coming of age. It is also the story of a fierce warrior struggling with vague memories of a past she can’t recall. Alita is both of these, and, at times, it can feel like it’s being stretched thin between its identities.

Even the name itself, Battle Angel, implies a paradoxical juxtaposition. From the moment Alita is activated, she is quite literally wide-eyed. Both because of her childlike wonder, and her enlarged eyes. It’s an animation choice that at first seems frivolous, but as the film goes on, it gives the character a way to be artificial, yet charming. You watch as she is enthralled by the neighbourhood bad boy, and rebels (like every teenage girl) against the guardianship of her father figure and creator, Dr Ido, played by Christoph Waltz.

There’s a definite sense that Alita: Battle Angel, is not here to break the mould on the story it’s trying to tell, but rather, take its best shot at a familiar sentiment. There are clichés abound, with a steampunk twist. For the most part, it works.

Against all that, there is also danger at every corner. Alita lives on the rough streets of Iron City, a place which is no one’s chosen home. That honour belongs to the near-mythical city of Zalem. A place for the upper class that is quite literally up, aloft in the sky. Separated by a fallen structure that may as well be called the Tower of Babel. The only way to get there is to compete in the Motorball games – the world’s most deadly night at the skating rink. As ridiculous as it might sound, it oddly resonates as a metaphor for the harsh realities of a warring class system. Some movies are about escaping with a basketball scholarship. This one is about cyborgs skating.

Visually, I found Alita: Battle Angel to be stunning, and a real achievement in 3D and action. It also has some very stellar performances. There are times when the film feels like a very strange fever dream, but one that makes sense as you endure it. It’s definitely one of a kind.

Rating: Big Screen Watch.