Set in the 26th century, the story takes place 300 years after a societal collapse caused by a major war. In that society, it's a technological dark age following a pinnacle of achievement far beyond where we are right now. Cyborg technology is a way of life. People are augmented a lot as workers, so being a cyborg is not unusual. The main character is a cyborg. She has an organic human brain, and she looks like she's about fourteen years old. She has a completely artificial body and she's lost her memory. She is found in a wreckage and reconstituted by a cyber-surgeon who becomes her surrogate father.
Directed by: Robert Rodriguez
. Starring: Rosa Salazar
, Christoph Waltz
, Jennifer Connelly
, Mahershala Ali
, Ed Skrein
, Jackie Earle Haley
, Keean Johnson
, Jorge Lendeborg Jr.
, Lana Condor
, Idara Victor
, Jeff Fahey
, Eiza González
, Derek Mears
. Music by: Junkie XL
The fans of Alita: Battle Angel love this hero. They love spending time with her. They long for a sequel--passionately. I haven't seen this kind of emotional attachment to a hero since the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
This is dfferent from other action movies. I liked The Avengers. I thoroughly enjoyed Guardians of the Galaxy. I even liked Ghost in the Shell. The 5th Element was a lot of fun. Blade Runner 2049 was pretty good. Arrival was fascinating and provocative. Gravity and The Martian were enjoyable (less so after I started thinking about them though).
But for me and most other Alita fans, Alita made me care about her. The other movies were over when they were over. I left Alita wanting to spend more time with her. Not just wanting a sequel. I just wanted to experience more of her life. I'd love to see a prequel or a "sidequel" too.
Look at all the reviews on Amazon and you'll see this sense of involvment. Involvement that goes well beyond the storyline.
All big budget Hollywood movies have at least one thing in common: they need substantial international sales to turn a profit. This in turn means the story has to be easily to grasp by audiences in Shanghai and Osaka as much as in LA or London.
You can add subtleties but they can't intefere with the storyline. Alita: Battle Angel is no exception to this. It's based on a mangaanime series I'd never heard of, though I have seen a lot of anime and know something about Japanese culture. And I've read and seen a lot of sci-fi. Ditto my spouse. So while some reviewers seemed to be a little confused about some things, we weren't. You don't need to know the manga.
What you do need, though, is the ability to relate to a human who "isn't compeletely human," as she says herself. And I believe the bad-to-indifferent reviews mostly come from people who can't relate to a person who's a "full replacement cyborg." Meaning the only originally human part of Alita is her brain. Her body is machinery. Her face is synthetic. (So her big eyes are just milspec--military requirements for low light sensitivity. If she had "anime eyes" so would the other residents of Iron City, and they don't.)
Moreover, her body is, for the first time in any movie ever, unmistakably artificial. In Ghost in the Shell. the Major is another full replacement cyborg, but what you see is Scarlett Johannson's curvy body in a skinsuit. With Alita, even though she's played by the very human Rosa Salazar, they use motion capture technology to mate Salazar's actions with an artificial body that couldn't contain a human being, despite being humanoid overall.
The bad reviews complain about aspects of the movie--like the simple storyline--that are no different from movies they do like. I don't think these reviewers are lying consciously, but I think they do viscerally reject Alita as someone they can relate to. My spouse and I only needed, like, half a second to adapt to her big eyes and robotic body. But we're both seasones sci-fi fans, and have dealt with tech stuff most of our working lives.
The Alita Rejecters sometimes talk about her creeping them out, or finding her eyes "weird" or stuff like that, but more often they don't mention is Uncanny Valley problem--they just badmouth the film for reasons that don't reveal them as xenophobes.
There is a subset of anti-Alita reviewers who reject her for ideological reasons. When professional movie critics do this it's a dereliction of their professional integrity, because their job is to review films as films, not by whether they support or detract from the reviewers' politics. That doesn't stop them though.
These negative reviewers reject her on ostensibly feminist grounds. Alita fans find this jaw-droppingly preposterous. For us, if there ever was a female hero role model it's Alita. But she's decidedly feminine, despite her metal body. She isn't androgynous. (Remember street crowds in Mao's China. dressed in shapeless unisex outfits? Apparently that's the ideal we should long for.) Alita loves a boy in the heedless, headlong way an innocent schoolgirl might feel towards her first love. She loves her surrogate father. Worse yet, at one point she's rescued from being killed by these two men and another man. Sometimes she's rash, makes mistakes, misjudges others. That is, she has all too human weaknesses she has to grow through.
These things appear to offend those who demand a female hero to have no flaws, no inner struggles (Rey in Last Jedi for example), and to be as asexual as a sea anemone. And not "cute." That's submitting to the patriarchy? One particularly offensive reviewer talked about Alita's robotic body as looking like a "sex doll." Meaning her body has a female shape instead of looking like a Dalek. I got the impression this reviewer is one of those people who didn't win the genetic lottery looks-wise, and thus requires all attractive women to not be attractive, so their looks won't make most of us feel bad. Back to Mao's China. Or the Taliban. Your choice.
The sex in Alita comprises two (2) kisses--and a boy touches her metal arm. Woo hoo. Well, and she rides behind her boyfriend on his motorcycle with her robot arms wrapped around him. The horror.
Remember I said all of these big budget Hollywood films have leave out the storyline subtleties, for that international audience. Because something that means A in one culture can mean B in another. I remember reading that years ago Asian audiences watching one Hollywood blockbuster assumed the hero was the villain because he talked back to his parents.
But other subtleties are available, and Alita exploits the best one: the human face. Credit goes equally to Rosa Salazar and the Weta team for accomplishing this. She shot the whole film wearing a dot-covered skinsuit and a helmet to which was attached two 4K cameras aimed at her face, on a titanium boom.
If you watch Avatar now--which was state of the art them--the alien characters look cartoonish by the standards Alita has now set. You can see every single pore on her face (somewhat to Salazar's distress), every nuance of human expression.
That's what gets Alita past the Uncanny Valley for her fans. The robot body and the big eyes are alien, and they never aren't. But her movements and expressions are so completely human, that the film's fans become immersed in her journey and wouldn't have her look any other way.
Are you that kind of person, or are you the kind who would be so creeped out by her differentness that you viscerally reject her story? Only you can answer that, but if you can boldly step over this a big payoff awaits you.
Look at the snippy, disdainful faux reviews of many of the critics, and then look at the delighted, immersed reviews of the fans, and ask yourself which kind of person would you rather be?
Review by sontzx from the Internet Movie Database.