Over the years we have seen an increasing number of films being based on comic books. With an audience that laps up this cinematic ‘Marvel’ and with technology being advanced enough to offer a seamless visual treat such films have become a rage. Continuing with the same, this week’s release ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL is a film that is based on Yukito Kishiro's manga Gunnm that was developed in 1990. While manga fast became a rage and developed a cult following. But, will the new live action – animation adaptation of this popular manga entice the audience is the question of the hour.
Set against a post-apocalyptic future, ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL follows the story of Alita (Rosa Salazar), a cyborg who has lost all memories and is found in a garbage heap by a cybernetics doctor, Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz), who rebuilds and takes care of her. She discovers that there is one thing she remembers, the legendary cyborg martial art Panzer Kunst, which leads to her becoming a Hunter Warrior or bounty hunter. The story traces Alita's attempts to rediscover her past and the characters whose lives she impacts on her journey. Will Alita remember who she is and where she came from? Will she become what she was built to be or will she fall in love and live a new life is what forms the rest of the story.
Based on the first four books in the series, the film starts off with a monologue detailing the post-apocalyptic scenario after the technological downfall that is referred to as ‘The Fall’. From there the story traverses Alita’s journey of discovering who she really is, and also includes the aspect of ‘Motorball’ that played an intrinsic role in helping her become the Battle Angel. James Cameron and Laeta Kalogridis have done a good job in adapting the books to celluloid, while there obviously major chunks of the story from the original manga that are missing, director Robert Rodriguez does a commendable job of weaving a coherent story. In fact, the makers of the film have done a convincing job of detailing a whole new CGI world and adding life to it. With over 30 minutes in the first half spent on giving the viewers a look and feel of the city, the film develops from being an action entertainer to one that tells the story of life. Once done, detailing the city and the issues and circumstances under which life exists, Rodriguez next focuses on Alita played by Rosa Salazar. Giving the character a well-defined back story that gradually unfolds with her recollecting lost memories, the film keeps the viewer riveted. Along with this, the director has ensured that the onscreen proceedings are pacy enough to keep the ball rolling with twists and turns that keep the cogs in the machine turning. Unfortunately, the second half of the film comes across as a bit rushed, especially since most of the key plot points have already been explored in the first half.
Coupled with this are the performances in the film, though acting stalwarts like Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali and Jackie Earle Haley are featured in supporting roles, each of them shines with brilliant and convincing performances. However, with a story that is based solely on one character, the entire focus is on Alita played by Rosa Salazar, and one has to admit that she has done a good job with the given role. Here a special mention has to be made for the CGI and visual effects team that have done a marvellous job of seamlessly creating a believable and lifelike resemblance on screen. With life like expressions and attention to minor details like hair movement, pupil dilation and even the finer motor functions that are part of walking, the CGI team have gone above and beyond the call. In fact, one can easily say that this film might just be one of the best, if not the best in film animation spectacle.
However, the film is not all positives only, as for fans of manga, ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL leaves out quite a few plot points that make the manga that much more interesting. In fact, the second half of the film comes across as a rushed job with the makers opting to skip over the entire ‘Motorball’ fights that Alita has in the arena that eventually leads to her being christened as the Battle Angel. This, along with other smaller plot lines that are omitted or ignored totally might not go down well with the hard core fans of the manga. In addition to this, since Alita is the main focus of the story, very little time is dedicated to elaborating on the character of Vector (Mahershala Ali) and Nova (Edward Norton). Sadly, neither of their villainous roles is explored and remains as foot notes in the film.
On the whole, ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL is filled with the right amount of empathic visual cues which builds an emotional rapport with viewers. A rapidly progressing story line peppered with action sequences and seamless visuals make the film a visual spectacle that captures the eye. However, fans of the original manga might be let down a bit, while those new to the story will relish the film.