So, here’s the thing: if you’re not familiar with anime as a form, a lot of the features here will look like bugs. The most obvious is actress Rosa Salazar’s inhumanly big eyes in the title role of the amnesiac gladiator cyborg, but there are others. Anime is, as a general rule of thumb, a medium of extremes: brutal violence sits alongside mawkish sentimentality, intricate design work is paired with clumsy, tilted animation (depending on the studio and budget, of course), and these binaries can be jarring. If you’re of a certain age you might recall seeing Robotech on the tube as a young’un and being very confused when the mecha action frequently paused for an awful lot of singing about the nature of romantic love – that’s a perfect encapsulation of what we’re talking about today.
Which is to say that Alita: Battle Angel, director Robert Rodriguez and producer James Cameron’s reworking of the manga series (and subsequent anime) Battle Angel Alita by Yukito Kishiro, might be the closest live action approximation of an anime flick that we’re ever likely to get – and inherent in that is a lot of tonal and narrative stuff that’s likely to put a big swathe of the audience off. It’s all here in the new trailer: check the music, listen to Salazar’s heart-on-sleeve pontificating, and measure it against the sumptuous cyberpunk-ish production design and the action beats. Hell, look at Christoph Waltz’s giant hammer, a feature lifted wholesale from the source material. If the idea of the German Oscar winner swinging that thing around in combat is a deal breaker for you, then Alita may not be your cup of tea.
However, in this age of endless franchises and overly safe filmmaking, weirdness is its own reward, and Alita certainly looks weird. Too weird? Let’s go to the official synopsis…
“From visionary filmmakers James Cameron (Avatar) and Robert Rodriguez (Sin City), comes Alita: Battle Angel, an epic adventure of hope and empowerment. When Alita (Rosa Salazar) awakens with no memory of who she is in a future world she does not recognise, she is taken in by Ido (Christoph Waltz), a compassionate doctor who realises that somewhere in this abandoned cyborg shell is the heart and soul of a young woman with an extraordinary past. As Alita learns to navigate her new life and the treacherous streets of Iron City, Ido tries to shield her from her mysterious history while her street-smart new friend Hugo (Keean Johnson) offers instead to help trigger her memories. But it is only when the deadly and corrupt forces that run the city come after Alita that she discovers a clue to her past – she has unique fighting abilities that those in power will stop at nothing to control. If she can stay out of their grasp, she could be the key to saving her friends, her family and the world she’s grown to love.”
Optimistically, let’s file this under “future cult classic”.
Alita: Battle Angel is in Australian cinemas from Boxing Day. If you want more of a deep dive, Cameron, Rodriguez, Salazar, and producer Jon Landau did a live stream Q&A dealio for San Diego Comic-Con that is now online. Check it out: