From the way a soft light beam reflects off Alita’s face (Rosa Salazar) , to minute details such as her lopsided smile, Alita: Battle Angel is the epitome of realism achieved by computer-generated images.
Based on Yukito Kishiro’s eponymous manga series from the early nineties, it’s a project almost two decades in the making. Originally to be directed by James Cameron, as well known for being the mastermind behind Titanic and Avatar as he is for how much time he takes in between the projects, the reins were later handed over to director Robert Rodriguez. (Though Cameron remained on the project as a screenwriter and producer, alongside his long-time collaborator, Jon Landau.)
Following her other post-apocalyptic films such as Divergent and the Maze Runner, Salazar leads Alita: Battle Angel as the titled character. The film is set in the year 2563, centuries after a war known as “The Fall”, and follows Alita’s journey after she wakes up as a female cyborg with no recollection of her past life.
What happened was that she was found in the scrap yard by Dr Dyson Idol (Christoph Waltz), a cyber-doctor who puts Alita's brain into an ancient but powerful robot body, and names the final product after his late daughter. Dr Idol is also secretly a Hunter-Warrior who kills other cyborgs to redeem bounties and treat his own patients.
After following Dr Idol to one such hunt, Alita starts having flashbacks about her past life as a warrior. Determined to regain the rest of her memory, she decides to become a Hunter-Warrior herself and to find her place in the world .
While Alita’s manga eyes are a constant reminder that we're watching an animated character, through the magic of motion and facial performance capture, there's still a human performance behind the technology. And, thankfully, motion capture and CGI nowadays are so advanced that viewers can truly appreciate all the subtleties in Salazar's amazing performance. This further humanises her character, and makes her much more relatable and empathetic than many other animated characters as she takes us along with her on an emotional rollercoaster.
Additionally, the MX-4D effects are truly what makes this an incredible cinematic experience - the theater seats are synchronised with the film in such a way you almost feel like you're living inside the movie.
Despite having a strong cast, which includes Mahershala Ali (Luke Cage, Green Book and Moonlight) and Lana Condor (To All the Boys I've Loved Before), the occasionally cheesy and cliche dialogue and weak plot mean the film is unlikely to achieve the heart-wrenching effect and emotional response from the audience as intended by its creators. While the water sprays and scented air kept us, quite literally, on the edge of our seats, there weren't any "aha!" moments or plot twists, both of which are key to keeping the audience engaged for any film running two and a half hours.