We’ve finally, finally reached the era in sci-fi moviemaking where the special effects on screen look exactly as good as their creators want them to be. To say that James Cameron’s Avatar ushered in a new era wouldn’t be exactly right — there are still plenty of movies whose computer effects are noticeably slapped together or end up bleeding into each other like a Technicolor nightmare soup — but when an effects department puts the right amount of time, care, and attention to detail (and, well, money) into a movie, it shows. Alita: Battle Angel, Robert Rodriguez’s adaptation of Yukito Kishiro’s cyberpunk manga series, has been in development hell since the early 2000s, and thank god for that: The movie we get to see now, after nearly two decades of delay, is stunning.
The plot, when the movie gets down to the basics, is pretty simple. In the far future, the head and torso of what looks like a cybernetic young girl is found in a scrapyard by Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz), who works as a repairman for all the various cyborgs and people with machine parts who live in Iron City. Ido gives the girl a new mechanical body and names her Alita, after she wakes up and can’t remember a thing about herself. Iron City is presided over by a bigger, fancier floating city, the last of its kind that somehow survived a giant war long ago — a war in which Alita played an important part, as she soon discovers. Meanwhile, she meets a boy, who introduces her to Motorball, a sport in which cybernetic people outfit themselves with armor and weaponry and race around a giant track, which is overseen by Chiren (Jennifer Connelly) and Vector (Mahershala Ali), with the latter spending most of his screen time leering behind a pair of dark sunglasses.
Did I say the plot was simple?