3.5 stars out of 4
Call them the ultimate movie-producing super team: James Cameron, Peter Jackson and Robert Rodriguez.
Three of Hollywood’s biggest names have combined forces to create one of the greatest – and perhaps unlikeliest – superhero ever: an extremely human-like robot anime named Alita, who also might be the most dominant athlete ever invented.
There’s so much to like about “Alita: Battle Angel,” a two-hour joy of a film that mixes CGI and live-action better than other film, which is saying something since that’s the staple of pretty much every superhero movie.
“Alita: Battle Angel” is Cameron’s long-awaited manga adaptation of a 1990s comic series that takes place about 500 years in the future in a cyberpunk dystopia where there’s a thriving black market in prosthetic body parts. Welcome to of Iron City, a junkyard metropolis underneath the shadow of the flying paradise of Zalem, which gained its superiority by defeating the city in a war.
Cameron, Rodriguez and Jackson make the most of their exorbitant $200 million budget from the outset, when Professor Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz) stumbles across the battered shell of a former robot superweapon, bringing back to life and naming her Alita (Rosa Salazar) after his late daughter, who was killed by a cyborg he created.
But Alita, who is a stereotypical anime complete with a perfect body, big head and massive eyes that take up about a third of her face, starts experiencing human emotions. Before you know it, she finds her superhero suit and becomes a bad-ass. When she’s not hanging with her love interest – a young robo-junk dealer Hugo (Keean Johnson) – she’s making a living as a bounty hunter and becoming the a rising star in a deadly sport called Motorball.
The Motorball scenes turn a good movie in a great one. The game is simple: rollerblading cyborgs battle to gain control of a glorified bowling ball and be the first to throw it in a hole, in a game similar to “Rollerball.” Rules? There are no rules – killing the opposition is encouraged, which is why every combatant brandishes a unique weapon and the goal of becoming overall champion, who gets to live in Zalem.
The film’s 1,500 CGI shots are superb, making the audience feel alongside Alita during fight scenes, which occur on the track, on the street, in a bar and in a sewer.
Alita’s biggest nemesis is a murderous cyborg named Grewishka (Jackie Earle Haley), who looks like Popeye with arms the size of cargo containers and weapons that would make a Transformer envious. He also works Vector (Mahershala Ali), who wants to Alita dead, which adds a layer of intrigue to a film that blends its storylines seamlessly and doesn’t take itself too seriously since it as much a cartoon film as live-action.
This is one angel who will soar to box-office success.
Jon Gallo is an award-winning journalist and editor with 19 years of experience, including stints as a staff writer at The Washington Post and sports editor at The Baltimore Examiner. He also believes the government should declare federal holidays in honor of the following: the Round of 64 of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament; the Friday of the Sweet 16; the Monday after the Super Bowl; and of course, the day after the release of the latest Madden NFL video game.