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Is Alita: Battle Angel worth the price of admission?

Alita: Battle Angel has great visual effects and fun, as well as a lackluster narrative and ableist themes.
Photo courtesy of Fox 2000 Studios

A pure special effects funhouse
Opinion by Austin Bolton

Alita: Battle Angel follows the story of a cyborg girl (spoiler: it’s Alita) who, after being scrapped and thrown away, is rebuilt by a doctor. Alita explores the metropolis of Iron City in the year 2563 while simultaneously struggling to recall where she originally came from.

Based on a manga series, Alita is an endlessly fun, imaginative, and exciting adventure. The film takes what comics do so well (intense, over-the-top action) and combines it with the drama of film. Though the two art styles are dramatically different, the movie captures the essence of the source material and translates it into a hyper-realistic world that is both well-thought-out and visually stunning.

Only a short way into the film, the villain puts a hit out on Alita. What follows are some of the best directed fight scenes in the past decade between Alita and a plethora of twisted “Hunter-Warriors.” These Hunter-Warriors include a woman with blades for hands, a grizzled old man with a pack of cyborg dogs (technically, he and Alita never square off, but he’s still amazingly awesome), and so many more. 

All of these things amount to a movie that is pure fun from start to finish, which is exactly what an action film should be.

Of course, it isn’t perfect; Alita inevitably wins every fight she’s part of, making her appear practically immortal, and the plot seems, at times, to exist more to show off flashy fight scenes than for the sake of narrative. However, the adrenaline rush the film evokes, as well as the breathtaking setting, more than makes up for these flaws.

Late in the film, Alita takes part in a sport called Motorball, a fight-to-the-death combination of roller derby and basketball, where teams consist of only one person each. In this particular race, however, all of the other competitors are Hunter-Warriors whose sole goal is to kill Alita and collect her bounty. The sheer inventiveness of the game paired with the elegant flow of action and exhilarating score makes the scene particularly thrilling.

Alita: Battle Angel delivers the fun and thrills that all action films aspire to, and it does so with superb imagination and grace. For both action and science-fiction adorers alike, the movie does not disappoint.

 

A lacking narrative that’s hard to ignore
Opinion by Genessa Gutzait

Alita: Battle Angel is as much of a cobbled-together mess of parts as its cyborg characters are. It’s pretty, but too many unanswered questions are created by abandoned plot details, stilted dialogue, and characters acting outside plausible motivations. Fortunately, Bad Guys in 2563 still wear black and lots of eyeliner, and plot armor still beats exaggerated weapons. 

For a movie about cyborgs, Alita doesn’t know how to treat them. Are they second-class citizens since quite a lot of the movie is about harvesting their parts? It’s excused if, like Hugo, the love interest, the parts traffickers never “kill” them by damaging the head. And for people with customizable bodies, especially the “Hunter-Killer,” ones who go after their own kind (also not explained by the movie), they’re surprisingly emotionally attached to those bodies.

When Alita gets a massively upgraded body, the mentor/supplier character of Dr. Ido tells her, “A warrior’s spirit needs a warrior’s body,” which sounds ableist toward anyone with inferior bodies, but also says, “It’s just a shell. It’s not bad or good, that part’s up to you.” 

Characters take a sort of “death is only bad when it happens to you or someone you care about” approach, usually killing anyone in their way who’s sufficiently annoying. This may be intended to create an atmosphere of grittiness and danger, but it’s contradicted when Alita is shown to break physics and win against “impossible” odds.

Producer James Cameron has said Alita is a metaphor for female puberty. Is that the part where she inexplicably keeps going on her quest after getting half the people she loves killed or the part where she’s instantly better than anyone else, especially when she regains her super weapon body? Or perhaps when she comes off as codependent and desperate in the degree of her willingness to give herself, very literally, to help her love interest (the cute cyborg trafficker, yep—don’t worry, he stops because loooove and also when it might happen to him)? Maybe it’s the part where you can only win things if you’re a 300-year-old Martian tech.

 

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