If there’s one area of filmmaking that gets a lot of criticism and debate, it’s turning animated media into live action. Whether it be live action remakes of Disney properties, videogames, or in this case anime, making these mediums into live action can be challenging. For every good production like Witcher and Jungle Book (2016) there is an equally bad one like The Last Airbender and Dragon Ball Evolution.
Today, I would like to discuss why I think Alita: Battle Angel is one of the better anime to live action adaptations out there. I will try to avoid as much spoilers as I can, but this is a two year old movie now, and there are bound to be a few spoilery things mentioned in here.
What is Alita: Battle Angel? What is it based off of?
Alita: Battle Angel is a 2019 film based off of the manga Battle Angel Alita by Yukito Kishiro. It is a cyberpunk series following the exploits of a young cyborg named Alita. After Daisuke Ido discovers her head and partially intact body, she is rebuilt and along the way tries to figure out where she fits into the world. She doesn’t have much of a memory from before Ido found her.
Along the way she learns about the world around her and makes new friends. What Zalem is and why she and the people in the Scrapyard are unable to go there. She also finds herself taking on several types of work including becoming a bounty hunter and motorball player, much to the behest of Ido, who wants to keep her safe. However, nothing about the world is as it seems. And when Nova gets his hands on people that Alita cares about, she finds herself doing whatever she can to stop him and finding out more about herself.
Battle Angel Alita is a nine volume series with a sequel in Battle Angel Alita: Last Order and later a several volume long series called Battle Angel Alita: Mars Chronicles.
Alita: Battle Angel was one of two stories that James Cameron wanted to make into a movie roughly twelve years ago (as of this post). The other being Avatar. Obviously, Avatar was the one to he ultimately ended up going with. However, James Cameron did enjoy this series and wanted to work on it. And a decade later, he did alongside Robert Rodriguez.
What Did it do Right?
Though taking a few liberties, Alita: Battle Angel did follow the first few volumes really well. Much like movies based on books, Alita: Battle Angel did have to make a few cuts and alterations. But most of them felt natural. Alita going from naïve amnesiac to bounty hunter to motorball player flowed well and her relationship with Hugo, natural.
The changes worked pretty well for the story. Changing who Alita got her name from (Ido and Chiren’s late daughter instead of Ido’s cat) felt suitable. Especially since Ido was a prominent and very protective father figure for Alita. Ido not being as involved with trying to prevent Alita from participating in motorball was okay. Especially since Chiren having a notable role. And Grewishka being a culmination of two characters from the manga, made since.
The casting was also very good. There was not a casting choice that I felt didn’t work. My favorites being Rosa Salazar as Alita, Mahershala Ali as Victor, and Jackie Earle Haley as Grewishka. Christopher Waltz as Ido was also a great casting choice and Ed Norton as Nova (via cameo) I feel works and I could see him pulling off Nova if we get a sequel or trilogy.
The effects in the movie were pretty good too. One of the bigger complaints was with Alita’s look. More specifically, her eyes. However, it’s not too jarring throughout the movie. I’d also say that, since Alita is different from most of the characters, so her having a feature that makes her stand out makes sense.
What Could it Have Done Better?
While certainly a good adaptation, I can’t say it’s perfect. Issues may vary from person to person, but I think I was able to narrow it down to two key elements. At least for me.
My first nitpick is runtime. While I don’t think it has as bad of an issue with pacing when compared to some movies, I do feel that it could use about an additional half hour at least. Because, unlike something like The Last Airbender, it wasn’t trying to force a season’s worth of material into one movie. Rather about a third of the manga, which could work for several episodes of a show or a trilogy with each movie focusing on each arc (introduction to world and motorball, Alita going out on her own, and Alita going to take Nova down). If Alita: Battle Angel was a two and a half hour movie, I feel they could have included a little more development in there. Maybe go more in-depth with Alita and Hugo’s relationship, or have Alita and Ido butting heads more. They could have even thrown in a motoball challenge with Victor, much like there was in the manga, and possibly introduce Victor’s sister.
If Alita: Battle Angel was a two and a half hour movie, I feel they could have included a little more development in there. Maybe go more in-depth with Alita and Hugo’s relationship, or have Alita and Ido butting heads more. They could have even thrown in a motoball challenge with Victor, much like there was in the manga, and possibly introduce Victor’s sister.
My bigger critique comes in the form of the rating. While PG-13 is a generally good rating for most action and sci-fi movies, I do feel that Alita: Battle Angel would have worked better with an R rating. Because, while it certainly did a good job with adapting the movie in a PG-13 setting, it would have been better with an R rating. Battle Angel Alita, while aimed for an older teen audience, would have fit perfectly with an R rating because of how violent it could get.
Adapting anything can be a hit or a miss. And while adapting an anime/manga series in a live action setting can prove misses more often, Alita; Battle Angel is one of the few exceptions. It followed the source material well with enough changes that didn’t feel jarring, the cast was good and the effects worked. However, I do believe it could have benefitted from a longer run time and an R rating.
I have a soft spot for Battle Angel Alita and was happy when they decided to make it into a movie. It certainly did a much better job than Dragon Ball: Evolution (based on another favorite of mine) and I would love to see Alita: Battle Angel get a sequel or become a trilogy some day.