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The summer movie season has started early and it has started with a bang! Alita: Battle Angel is a film adaptation of the Gunnm Manga series created by Yukito Kishiro. It’s produced by James Cameron and directed by Sin City’s Robert Rodriguez. The story has cyborg physician Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz) finding the remains of a still active cyborg in a junk heap. Made to resemble a teenage girl, the doctor restores his discovery using a cybernetic body meant for his invalid daughter, who is now dead. He names her Alita after his little girl and soon the two bond as Alita (Rosa Salazar) tries to figure out who she is. Along the way Alita falls for street hustler Hugo (Keean Johnson) and becomes interested in the violent game of Motorball. Alita also finds she is no normal machine and there are sinister forces who want her technology for their own nefarious purposes…and they will hurt anyone to get it. A girl becomes a warrior, as Alita must now protect those she loves from harm.

The plot synopsis above is a simplification as Alita has a bit of a complex story, as many Manga do. It’s adapted to script by James Cameron and Laeta Kalogridis and exceptionally well directed by Rodriguez, in what may be his best film so far. Despite being plot heavy, Rodriguez takes his time with the story, first introducing us to Alita and letting us learn about who she is as she does. It allows us to become endeared to her, so when treachery sets in and the action really gets going, we are emotionally invested in the characters. And that’s one of the pleasant surprises about Alita: Battle Angel, it has a strong emotional center thanks especially to a very strong performance by lead Rosa Salazar as Alita. The actress really gets the emotions of the character through in the motion capture and vocal performance, so we really see the CGI character as a three dimensional one. We feel for her all the way and the film has a “human” center despite being filled with CGI characters and epic battles. On the popcorn level the film also delivers. The SPFX are spectacular, as is the design of the world of the 26th century, Alita herself and her cyborg costars. The action is fast and furious and while having a lot of elements, the plot is far from hard to follow. The flick is surprisingly violent for a movie that could be marketed strictly to teens, but it makes it adult enough for the older crowd to enjoy and adds intensity to the proceedings. Sure there is some corny dialogue and some cliché moments, but Rodriguez uses those elements to the film’s advantage, as it is an old-fashioned superhero story at heart…and heart is something this flick has a lot of.

The cast really play the material well. As said, Rosa Salazar is very good at embodying Alita with a strong character through body language and voice performance. She gives the cyborg teen a lot of charm, intensity, as well as, a sense of wonder and a touch of naivety. Salazar is a star in the making. Waltz is very endearing as the kindly Dr. Ido, who has some secrets of his own. He plays the father figure well, but with a quiet strength. Keean Johnson is also endearing as the rogue-ish Hugo, the boy Alita falls for. He also has some secrets, too, but he remains likable despite Hugo’s sometimes shady activities. The film also features Jennifer Connelly as Ido’s ex-wife, who works for the film’s primary villain, Motorball tycoon Vector (Mahershala Ali) and there is a surprise cameo, that won’t be spoiled here, as the man pulling Vector’s strings, Nova. There are also appearances by Ed Skrein, Jeff Fahey, Michelle Rodriguez and Jackie Earl Haley as various CGI cyborg characters. A very effective cast.

Overall, this flick was a blast and a really good time that gives a very early start to the summer movie season. It’s a fun popcorn flick, yet one with a more layered story to get us involved in and adds some dramatic weight and intensity to the FX and action. It has a star making performance from it’s leading lady, Rosa Salazar and has more heart than you’d expect from a cyborg. Highly recommended.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) Battle Angels.