- Chandra Ingram
Alita: Battle Angel: "Another brave youth attempting to break the oppressive system"
Whoosh, a gush of wind slaps my ankles, as I’m jerked to the left, the right, and suddenly I’m leaning so far forward I fear I might fall out of my chair. This is the experience 4DX brings you— that Alita: Battle Angel brings you along with its extravagant graphics.
Robert Rodriguez combines two worlds to generate an animated, dystopia where cyborgs coexist with humans.
The trailer brought low expectations, revealing yet another futuristic robot animation film. Yet, the movie is surprisingly touching.The protagonist Alita grabs you, throwing you behind her in a furious rallying cry as she punches the air. Even if you push back, resisting, not wanting to fall into the basic, cheesiness of it, you just might. Either way, you’ll be thrown forward by the battle angel or your tumultuous chair.
We first meet Alita, or rather her intact upper body, in a scrapyard below a hovering sky city. A war known as “The Fall” took place 300 years ago, destroying all the sky cities except Zalem. Dr. Dyson, one of the most talented engineers in Iron City, salvages Alita by attaching a new body intended for his deceased daughter.
When we meet Alita again, she is in full post-digital transformation. She awakes in a bed and stumbles to the mirror across the room. She touches her face, feeling the skin, alive and well. Then she wiggles in her new limbs, and the theater chair shifts too, so we feel like we are discovering our new body for the first time with her.
Alita, although a cyborg, appears eerily realistic. The main give-away to her animation is her bulging eyeballs, like a Disney princess. Her memory is wiped. She doesn’t even remember her own name. But as Dr. Dyson points out, at least her tears are working.
As Alita joins the world of Iron City for the first time, we are introduced to Robert Rodriguez’ dystopian society. Iron City assimilates a modern-day Mumbai gone steampunk. During the day, the junkyard city is a melting-pot of cyborgs, humans, machine-warriors known as centurions, and Motorball enthusiasts.
Central to the city and its residents is a rapid, fight-to-the-death sport called Motorball. Every year the Motorball champion is supposedly sent to Zalem. As Alita becomes accustomed to her new body and discovers her natural strengths and fighting abilities, she decides to compete.
The people of Iron City will go to extreme lengths to go to Zalem. However, we discover they’re often chasing after false promises. Connected to Iron City by ascending pipe-like wires, the city of Zalem is never revealed. Instead the film steals glimpses of it from below. Hundreds of skyscrapers pear out over the edge, suggesting the entire floating world is filled with upscale, modern buildings.
Alita’s friend, Hugo, takes her to the best view in the city—of Zalem. But we also get a steep shot of Iron City far below. You feel you are literally leaning over the edge, and your chair leans forward until you fall into the screen.
Like puppets with strings, the residents of Iron City are controlled by those above in Zalem. The only release from this emotional slavery is to suppress the desire to go there. Hugo describes Zalem as “better than this dump down here.” He’s one of the many strung to false promises.
When Alita and Hugo look up at Zalem, infatuated by its mystery, one might draw a parallel to the scene in Finding Nemo, when Nemo and his friends look up at the distant ship they call “the butt”. Nemo has the courage to go touch it, just like Alita when she becomes determined to enter Zalem.
Alita: Battle Angelis a crossover between The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner. Another brave youth attempting to break the oppressive system, Alita challenges those in power. Like Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games, Alita is underestimated, and she uses these miscalculations to her advantage.
Although the 4DX experience was initially distracting, my chair brought me directly into the fast-paced battles and live action. When a spear tore through someone’s shoulder on screen, my right shoulder felt the same spike hit me from the behind. When Alita dodged the propelling chains with spear-like edges, my chair leaned side to side, so I was spiraling with her. Sparks emerged from her skates, as she whipped through the Motorball rink, and my ankles felt the burn from under my seat.
The stunning graphics and animations, the epic time-lapse over Iron City, and Alita’s blunt vernacular elevated the overall movie experience. However, the ending diminished the entire foundation of the film. It stops short with the intention of a sequel, thus only adding to the wave of unoriginal, capitalistic driven productions in the past decade, and calling for another battle of the sequels. One might support the battle angel and her pursuit to challenge the current power dichotomy, but they shouldn’t support a film industry motived to create capital over creative content.