Alita battles to get into the black after bad opening

We’ve been seeing trailers for Alita: Battle Angel in cinemas for about a year now and when the hype train is long it is matched by the conga line of critics ready and willing to tear it apart at release.

Alita charging into battle

I should know, I’ve been that guy many times.

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While she topped the box office in North America on her opening weekend—which also was the President’s Day Weekend—making around $40 million, the combined box office for this particular date is the lowest it’s been for some time.

Comparatively, this time last year Black Panther made over $300 million on the same weekend. Some people are saying the decline is due to the lack of a major hit film or specifically a superhero film. I’m not surprised, nothing performs that well these days compared to even the more average Marvel blockbuster.

We really are that shallow.

Oh yeah, and the last Manga adaptation, Ghost in the Shell was a whitewashed stinker that was no match for the source material. Which doesn’t help much.

It’s a shame because the story of Alita, is good. Like really, really good. And the movie, well, it’s pretty good too.

Writers James Cameron, yes that James Cameron, and Laeta Kalogridis (who created the series Altered Carbon) have been working on a film adaptation for years. Cameron actually secured the rights for Alita back in the Titanic Days, almost 20 years ago, and held off because he didn’t think the technology was there to make the film at the time. Which is a bummer because I think this movie would have been huge if released 13 or so years ago when anime was in maybe it’s 3rd boom.

Sadly, it seems the appetite for teen romance, cyberpunk. sci-fi, manga anime action adaptations may not be as strong among mainstream audiences as it once was, but it’s cool he’s still pushed to have it made. Cameron would have directed it too but because he’s off making a butt-tonne of Avatar sequels that we’re not sure anyone wants or needs he handed that duty over to the more than capable Robert Rodriguez—who you’d know from such classics as Sin City, Spy Kids and The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lava Girl. While Rodriguez remains fairly loyal to Cameron’s script, I think the movie is better for having Cameron slide into the passenger seat.

What’s it about?

Based on the Manga series published from 1990 to 1995 in Shueisha’s Business Jump comic magazine and a two-part anime release in 1993 Alita: Battle Angel is Pinocchio, meets the Terminator, meets Rollerball flavoured with a huge dose to teen romance. It’s the story of a deactivated Cyborg found by a robot repairman, Doctor Ido, smashed up on a garbage heap in Iron City dropped down from this big city in the sky called Zalem.

The grass is always greener and everyone who lives in Iron City wants to get to Zalem. Alita, has no memory of who she was or what she did and over the course of the film she discovers that she’s more than just teenage cyborg and actually a top of the line war machine, learns about her mission and kicks a shitload of cyborg assassin arse. But among all the metallic arse kickery, the thing that shines through is the teenage romance as she falls in love with a human named Hugo.

Who’s in it?

The cast are fantastic. Jackie Earle Haley is unrecognisable and great as Grewishka, the monsterous cyborg assassin. Ed Skrein is excellent as the vanity driven cyborg bounty hunter Zapan. Mahershala Ali is great but deserved more screen time as Vector, the evil Iron City entrepreneur. Jennifer Connelly is a little distant but decent as Chiren, doctor Ido’s Ex-wife and master engineer. Christoph Waltz almost steals the show as Gepetto, I mean doctor Ido and—as a 42 year old man and father—I thought Alita could do way better than Keean Johnson as Alita’s love interest Hugo, but the kids will love him. Then we have Rosa Salazar who puts in a stunning performance as Alita, complemented by the sublime motion capture special effects from the artists at Weta digital. She’s incredible and the level of detail they have gone to merge her features with the character is definitely the main event. She packs such a massive punch both physically and emotionally. She’s like a Margaret Keane painting brought to life!

The verdict

The problem with Alita is that the characters are so rich and they try to pack so much into the two hour run time that everything seems to simply glance across the surface—kind of like Marie Condo trying to spark joy by squeezing a bed spread into a sock drawer. However, I think the creators might assume some knowledge of the lore from the audience, or maybe just a level of intelligence where that which is understood doesn’t need to be discussed. Which is kind of refreshing.

It does have a lot of those action movie tropes—power realised, failure caused by an inflated sense of self, finding renewed humility and purpose, coming back stronger and winning the boss battle at the end. But it also has something for everyone, a cute character that also kicks major arse, a love story, eye-bleeding action sequences, state of the art special effects and really cool fight sequences thanks to a lack of guns throughout the story. It does go way over the top at times but when it comes together in all the right amounts it’s truly one of the best looking films I’ve seen in a while. It doesn’t shy away from being vibrant as opposed to cast in shadows like a lot of films with heavy CGI tend to do.

Robert Rodriguez has done a great job standing up this film when other directors would have run a mile after what happened with Ghost In The Shell. This movie has made me want to dive into the source material and find out more about the Great War, floating cities and everything else that goes with this really cool universe.

While box office figures have people freaking out like Brian Singer at bring your kids to work day, I think Alita: Battle Angel will fare much better at the long game, especially now that the Tomatometer or whatever the hell it is has settled down and more real people go and see it. You should go see it too, on the big screen, maybe even in 3d while you can!

We’ve been on this ride before but Robert Rodriguez has tightened up some of the bolts and put new padding on the safety bar, all you have to do is sit back and enjoy it.


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