Alita: Battle Angel embodies modern socialist ideal

Movie Review – Alita: Battle Angel

James Cameron and Robert Rodriguez pull off some careful reprogramming of a Japanese animé heroine by pitting her superior cyborg parts against human selfishness in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

Alita: Battle Angel

4/5

Starring: Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Keean Johnson

Directed by: Robert Rodriguez

Running time: 2 hrs 2 mins

Rating: PG-13

By Katherine Monk

Ever wondered what might happen if Pinocchio and Ben-Hur met twenty centuries after the Fall of Rome in a futuristic wasteland? No? Then never mind. Turn your attention to a good novel and ignore the hype that’s brewing around Alita: Battle Angel. If you have pondered the Battle Royale possibilities of a human brain powering a potent of robotic body in a game of post-apocalyptic rollerball, then Battle Angel is the answer to your nihilist prayers.

A glossy piece of digital animation that takes us to the 26th century on Earth, Alita: Battle Angel is a collection of familiar bits and pieces: A scarred junkyard of a landscape populated by scarred humans and rusty hardware, a society starkly divided between the haves and have-nots, and a childlike being with mysterious powers.

A glossy piece of digital animation that takes us to the 26th century on Earth, Alita: Battle Angel is a collection of familiar bits and pieces: A scarred junkyard of a landscape populated by scarred humans and rusty hardware, a society starkly divided between the haves and have-nots, and a childlike being with mysterious powers.

The last part of this action thriller formula is easy to identify: Alita, the central character who bears the unmistakable full Sailor Moon eyes of her manga heritage, as well as producer James Cameron’s latter-day avatars. Little more than a piece of scrap discovered on the heap below the sky city of elites called Zalem, Alita was brought to life by a skilled craftsman of a scientist named Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz).

Looking more like Gippetto than anything the original 1990s ‘Gunnm’ series by Yukito Kishiro ever imagined, Ido is a man who lost his daughter to illness, and now helps the needy with prosthetic repairs in the violence-ridden Iron City.

Looking more like Gippetto than anything the original 1990s ‘Gunnm’ series by Yukito Kishiro ever imagined, Ido is a man who lost his daughter to illness, and now helps the needy with prosthetic repairs in the violence-ridden Iron City.

When he finds Alita — a disconnected human brain sitting in a discarded electronic casing — Ido’s life fills with new purpose. He’s got a new little girl to take care of, but he also knows she probably has a past — and goes out of his way to keep Alita out of the perpetually prying eyes of power.

Alita has no memories, but shortly after she’s reanimated, she exhibits particular athletic talents. She’s got super-fast reflexes and a full inventory of battle moves. She’s also got preternatural intuition in high-stress situations. We suspect Alita may be more than pretty scrap metal, and when we hear there’s such a thing as a “Berserker Body” — a menacing cyborg battle suit — we just have to sit back and wait for Alita to put it on, and give Iron City an epic kick in the can.

It all unfolds the way you might expect for this real girl in a mechanical body as memories begin to resurface, a fledgling romance takes hold and the dynamic with Ido grows more familial. Eventually, Alita’s talents are noticed by the evil overlords represented by Vector (Mahershala Ali) and his physician sidekick Chiren (Jennifer Connelly), placing her in imminent danger, but also stimulating more memories.

The movie ends before we get the mental satisfaction of the whole picture, or even a glimpse of the sky city called Zalem. Yet, Rodriguez and Cameron successfully create a whole world that we want to revisit, and a character we truly love — despite the obvious artifice. When you first lay eyes on Alita, the childlike body and gigantic eyes ooze all the creepiness of Japanese sex bots and animé eroticism — doll-like exaggerations that reduce feminine physicality to a state of wide-eyed surrender.

Cameron and Rodriguez play with this unsettling mix of sexuality and innocence by powering up and pushing back. Alita is a one-woman commando force, and every time someone underestimates her abilities, we’re given the pleasure of watching them launched through a plate glass window — or some other smashable piece of scenery. This is perhaps the funnest part of the whole movie because it plays to our mortal frustrations, and a lingering sense of injustice at the way the world works.

Cameron and Rodriguez play with this unsettling mix of sexuality and innocence by powering up and pushing back. Alita is a one-woman commando force, and every time someone underestimates her abilities, we’re given the pleasure of watching them launched through a plate glass window…

It’s a quasi-socialist theme that runs all the way through James Cameron’s catalogue, from the empowered rebels in Terminator to the aboriginal uprising in Avatar. Even Titanic featured a working-class hero whose altruism redeems ignorance and avarice.

This noble Cameron edge defines the mood of the film. It’s palpable in the high contrast  imagery and epic tableaux that blend flesh and circuitry into a fluid mix. And most notably, erases the cold technological edge that generally suggests machines are evil and humans are good. Here, technology isn’t the villain — human entitlement, corruption and old-fashioned selfishness are the forces that threaten goodness and freedom.

In this universe, Alita is the avenging angel. She represents humanity’s hope for regaining control over the industrial age that destroyed our common village: a pint-sized female force with the power to emancipate humanity from its iron bonds by repurposing its robotic parts, and reprogramming them with love.

@katherinemonk

Main image: Alit: Keean Johnson (left) and Rosa Salazar (center) in Twentieth Century Fox’s ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL. Photo Credit: Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox.
THE EX-PRESS, February 15, 2019

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Review: Alita - Battle Angel

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A glossy piece of digital animation that takes us to the 26th century on Earth, Alita: Battle Angel is a collection of familiar bits and pieces: A scarred junkyard of a landscape populated by scarred humans and rusty hardware, a society starkly divided between the haves and have-nots, and a childlike being with mysterious powers. It all unfolds the way you might expect for a real girl in a mechanical body as memories begin to resurface, a fledgling romance takes hold and the dynamic with Ido grows more familial. Eventually, Alita’s talents are noticed by the evil overlords, placing her in imminent danger, but propelling a larger plot that could free the repressed mortals of Iron City. -- Katherine Monk

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