Randy’s Review: ‘Alita: Battle Angel’

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Manga goes big screen in fantasy epic

Take away the ridiculously scripted moments of peril between two ill-fated young lovers — one a human and one a cyborg — and you’ve got a fun, well-crafted, special effects heavy, sci-fi tale in “Alita: Battle Angel.”

Featuring a couple of Hollywood A-listers in Christoph Waltz and Mahershala Ali, the futuristic tale – based on a popular manga series “Gunnm” — is set in Iron City in the year 2563.

Following a war known as “The Fall,” the downtrodden and ruthless, Iron City’s resident base struggles to survive, working in fields and factories to provide food and supplies for the last of the floating metropolis cities, Zalem.

Many of the citizens of Iron City are comprised at least partially of cyborg parts, replacing limbs and in some cases torso. Dr. Dyson Ido (Waltz) is the town’s primary cyborg surgeon and practitioner. While searching through a junkyard, he comes across the remains of a cyborg with a human brain. He rebuilds her and nurses her back to health. When she awakens, she has no memory of her past. She can’t even remember how to eat an orange. Dr. Ido treats her as both his patient and his new assistant. He takes her out for a walk to expose her to her new world and she is instantly engaged. Among the things with which she demonstrates the most interest is the only remaining sport, Motorball, involving cyborgs or humans in cyborg armor, with weaponry, and jet-propelled roller blades participating in a roller derby style activity.

Also while she’s out, she comes across Hugo (Keenan Johnson), a young street kid and parts hustler. The two are quickly drawn to one another and begin seeing each other on a daily basis.

Bit-by-bit, portions of Alita’s memory are trigged by events around her. She begins to realize there’s a lot more to her story. She also begins to learn more about Dr. Ido who stalks the streets of Iron City at night while she sleeps at his home.

One night, Ido finds himself under attack and Alita springs into action, saving him from a group of predators, and discovering at the same time she is a warrior.

Word of her fighting skill and athleticism gets back to Vector (Ali), who with his assistant and Dr. Ido’s ex-wife, Chiren (Jennifer Connelly), oversee Motorball for the people of Iron City. While Vector is seen as one of Iron City’s underground leaders, he is also the eyes and ears of Nova (Edward Norton). Nova rules from Zalem and is seen as the real authority figure in this world.

Nova, working with Vector and a gigantic modified cyborg, Grewishka (Jackie Earle Haley) seeks to locate and kill the young but dangerous girl before she figures out who she really is and what she’s capable of doing.

Add to the story, a group of bounty hunters, calling themselves hunter-warriors, who rule the streets of Iron City as they try to keep crime down and criminals to a minimum in an old west fashion.

Alita, Dr. Ido and Hugo find themselves hunted by the most powerful forces in the city in an effort to claim Alita and stop her before she is able to realize her true potential.

Eventually, Alita begins to fulfill her role as battle angel as she enters the realm of Motorball and becomes a threat to the rule and stability of Nova.

What Waltz and Ali are doing in this film I have no idea, but yet here they are. Ali is wasted in a minor role, but Waltz is good as the loving, father figure who more than meets the eye.

I think fans of science fiction tales will appreciate the direction of Robert Rodriguez and co-screenplay efforts of action icon James Cameron. The story works and will entertain its target audience. Depending on the box office take, expect a sequel, it sets up that way.

On a scale of 5 popcorn buckets, “Alita: Battle Angel” loads up 3 1/2 tubs of well-seasoned, nicely buttered good-old-fashioned fantasy fun. Perhaps a bit violent and brutal for younger children, Alita should be one of the more popular sci-fi efforts in a while. MPAA rating: PG-13. Running time: 2 hours, 2 minutes. This film was reviewed at Southpark 7 Theatres in Spencer.