When this film was first announced, I have to say I was both kind of excited and a little worried. Excited because it looked pretty awesome, worried because, manga to live action adaptations tend to be kind of hit or miss. I also felt like even if it was good, it wouldn’t really have enough mainstream appeal to actually be successful.
While I really liked this movie, its not perfect. It has a lot of weird pacing issues and the ending left a bad taste but the visuals are amazing and the action sequences were all well done. The story is alright as well, though if anything it’s a little overly complex for the duration of the film. In preparation for the film I read through a lot of the original manga. The manga, is sort of a series of separate stories involving Alita, one event happens, then another happens, then another, and so on. The movie is sort of a remix of these stories where they are a bit more intertwined together. This Blending helps make things feel a little more like one big story, but it can make things a little harder to keep track of which characters are important to which storyline.
There are a lot of parts that are pretty faithful to the manga, and others that are toned down and others that seem to be new. For example, the first real story in the manga involves Alita and Ido tracking down a killer who is obsessed with eating people’s brains. The same killer shows up in the movies, but the brains part is removed and his role is expanded a bit so he shows up several times throughout the movie. There is a big set piece of Motorball, which is all in later story elements of the Manga, but in the movie, it’s introduced as a plot device earlier on, and we see less of Alita rising through the ranks of the sport, probably to save time. There are however plenty of other sequences that are lifted directly from the pages of the Manga.
As much as I like that they tried to make things more cohesive, it also kind of hurts the story a lot. Alita’s evolution from innocent little girl amnesiac to bad ass warrior is basically explained away by “mysterious past”. It feels a little unnatural. In the manga, she joins Motorball because she is mad at Ido and upset over a recent personal loss and essentially wants to forget her new past life. In the movie, she joins more “because it’s cool” and vaguely because the winner gets to go to Zalem. That personal loss moment doesn’t occur until the end of the film and she never really turns away from Ido. I found this a little disappointing since Ido and Alita competing against each other’s Motorball teams while pretending to be strangers was kind of a fun bit in the manga.
The next paragraph involves some spoilers for the film. There is also a lot of subplot involving Demi Moore’s character Rose, and the mysterious Nova. I really feel like the parts about Nova should have been seriously toned down or trimmed out, with more emphasis on Vector being the main villain of the film. The plot points for Nova literally go nowhere except to set up a sequel and the plot would have felt more contained without it. Demi Moore also has this weird tendency to just sort of show up a few times, to either be a snide bitch or to help out randomly. She exists to sort of give more backstory for Ido’s connection to Alita, but overall she just sort of feels uselessly tacked into everything.
This leads to my main disappointment with this film, which frankly, is only a disappointment if there is never a sequel. The movie just sort of… ends, with no real resolution. Things are set up for a sequel, but I worry it may not do well enough to get one, leaving the movie with a very meh ending. My one optimistic hope is that that the producer, James Cameron, best known for Avatar and Titanic, two of the largest films ever made, has such a huge hard on for the material that he’s been trying to make this movie for like 20 years. I feel like he may push a sequel out even if this first film is a flop.
One other thing I definitely want to address is the eyes. When the trailers first dropped for this, the one main topic of discussion were Alita’s large eyes. In the actual film, it’s really not an issue, at all for a few reasons. First, a lot of the cast has some sort of cyborg augmentation. Hell off the top of my head, I think there were only a few notable characters who didn’t have some level of cyborg going on. There are character with robot arms, characters with robot skulls, characters with robot legs, there are robot parts, everywhere. That’s part of the world of Iron City, where the film takes place. Also, during some flashbacks of Alita’s past, other characters with these same eyes are shown, which implies that it’s part of where she came from, and not just a gimmick to make her character look more “anime”.
Speaking if Iron City, it’s a really interesting setting for the story. I really like these sort of dystopian future cyberpunk settings, and Alita has a lot of great atmosphere to it. The story takes place in Iron City, which is basically a huge slummy junkyard that sits under the flying sky city of Zalem. Nothing is really shown of Zalem aside from it’s underside. Many of the characters have dreams of reaching this city, which is believed to be some sort of utopian paradise, and it’s a central plot element motivating several of the characters. The lower city is cluttered and crowded and full of cobbled together buildings, constructed from scraps dropped by the city of Zalem.
I also wanted to touch a bit on the violence as well, more for informational purposes than that I really have a problem with it. The movie itself is rated PG-13. There isn’t any sex or nudity, there isn’t a lot of swearing, but it’s fairly violent. The manga is extremely violent. It’s full of pretty detailed art of people getting their heads crushed or brains ripped out and eaten. The movie tones this down quite a bit, but there is still a ton of dismemberment. On one hand, it’s all cyborgs, so, they are “like robots”. Except as “cyborgs”, they ARE people, with robot bits. If a human has his head removed and put on a human body, just because it doesn’t have a bunch of blood, doesn’t mean it’s not a little graphic in nature.
Wrapping up, it’s a good cyberpunk film and manga adaptation. It’s more faithful of an adaptation than some other recent manga adaptations for sure (Ghost in the Shell). That said, it’s based on an old Manga, which means it’s not really going to be everyone’s cup of tea due to some of the cultural oddities that come along with that. It’s visually nice but it’s not nearly as accessible plotwise as say, a Marvel movie. Fans of Sci-Fi and cyberpunk should definitely enjoy it.