Alita: Battle Angel (2019) – True to the Anime in a Rich World

In my experience, it is bad to adapt anime into live-action films. You either end up with dumpster fires like “Dragonball Z,” or they are passable as with the first “Deathnote” movie. Live-action isn’t friendly to animation, and that runs true in the United States, too. I didn’t think “Beauty and Beast” was good, and I’ve not been a fan of Disney adapting more animation in the same way. Animation has a freedom of form that you don’t get in CGI, or human actors, and that is true here. So the question I ask is, “why did this work for me?” It works because they delved into the lore where the initial anime didn’t. I can see why this was in development hell for a long time, and this time it was worth it.

“Alita: Battle Angel” is a cyberpunk dystopian action film that was adapted from the manga by Yukito Kishiro.The film was directed by Robert Rodriguez (an action director I’m a fan of), and written by James Cameron and Laeta Kalogridis. James Cameron was also a producer, and you can see his care with CGI in this.

Alita is a cyborg seeking to discover her. Her adopted father, Ido, brings her back to “life” upon finding her in the wastes below the last sky city of Zalem years after The Fall, a war that devastated Earth 300 years prior. From here she must face multiple threats as she protects the people she loves.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Soundtrack – Tom Holkenborg does a wonderful job honoring the original anime’s soundtrack. You can hear the “Blade Runner” inspiration, while it also manages to develop a voice and feel of its own. The music captures the sci. fi. epic past, as well as the present desperation of the characters.

The World – The anime touches on a rich world that the live-action film explores more extensively. There are hundreds of years of history. We learn about the war with the Sky Cities, and how Zalem became the last one. We learn about a cyborg military force from Mars, and how they nearly succeed before being defeated. We see the wastes where there is a gladiatorial competition of motorball where the winner of the tournament is rewarded by going to Zalem. I loved this world. It made me want to read the manga, and learn more. I hope this film gets sequels, so they can further explore it.

The Action – The action is amazing. This is a film where you feel every punch. For example, there is a villain who Alita easily beats while defending Ido. He returns later, and it takes all she has to beat him. She loses so much of her cyborg body but fights on. I was never bored during this film. I even thought motorball was handled well, given how they presented the action with so much color, movement and increasing stakes as players tried to kill her. The action is truly one of the most memorable parts of the film.

Ido – Christoph Waltz is wonderful as Ido. He is a scientist, and Hunter-Warrior, exiled from Zalem with his wife, whom his relationship with ended after their daughter was killed. We see him wanting that second chance in Alita as he gives her his daughter’s name. Their arc is him treating her as her own person, and respecting just how powerful she is. She is the protector and he is the “father.” He reactivated her and gave her the cyborg body he was going to give his real daughter. Through a set of Berserker Armor he Ido gives Alita, she discovers her past as a soldier for the United Republics of Mars (URM). Waltz is an award winning actor for a reason and this film is a great example of why.

Alita – Rosa Salazar does a fantastic job as Alita. She is a woman seeking out her past, and also discovering her own humanity as a sentient android. We see her fall in love with and save Hugo, only to later lose him. We see her relationship with her “father” Ido become one of partnership, and family, rather than her being treated like a child. We see her discover what it means to fight the greater fight, as losing Hugo reminds her of the larger fight against Zalem and the man behind the scenes Nova. Nova has been the one manipulating Vector, Ido’s ex-wife Dr. Chiren, and taking all the remains of humans he finds worthy below. You can see why Alita wants to end him, and when she discovers where her fight truly is, it is empowering and also sets up possible sequels.

Implications of the War – From what we can tell the URM lost the war and Earth stayed oppressed by Nova and Zalem. The world of “Alita: Battle Angel” is broken, and the desperation of people makes it so sociopaths like Nova can easily manipulate them into tools he can use to strengthen his city. The war ended but the fact that Alita survives implies that the old way may return, especially if she becomes a uniter of the people below Zalem.

Okay:

Minor Characters – Hugo, Vector, Dr. Chiren and a few others are fine. In the case of Vector, they end up often being possessed by Nova, so we never really learn who Vector is. Dr. Chiren has some good moments with Ido, and her choice to save Hugo is powerful. Ultimately her character underdeveloped. Hugo is okay, I liked him more in the anime because he was a bit more naive. In this film he is more grown up, which makes what he does as a mercenary all the more revolting. He does leave, and it costs him his life, but I felt he needed more development. I didn’t care about him nearly as much as I did Dr. Chiren.

The Promise of Nova – Nova is a powerful force and we know how oppressive Zalem is but we never learn who Nova is. I put him as okay because the mystery gives potential for a compelling backstory, and he could become much more of a threat than he is in this. Edward Norton is extremely talented and plays Nova. There was some missed opportunity in his role. He is a good enough constant threat in the film, and I like that he’s been around since the war with URM. Hopefully his story pays off in sequels.

For any fans of anime or post-apocalyptic cyberpunk sci. fi., this is a film worth checking out. I’ve been wanting to see a solidly good anime adapted to film for some time, and it looks like this time they managed to do it. The acting is solid, the action is great, the story is compelling and it is true to the anime while expanding on it and enriching the world. This film is a great example of adaptation done right.

Final Score: 8.4 / 10

Terminator Genisys (2015): Terminator Referynce With a Great Missed Story

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    “Terminator Genisys” had the potential to be the best of the story, wholly original and able to stand on it’s own, without referencing any of the past “Terminator” films. Sadly I’d be expecting too much from the studios and writers for that to become a reality and because the film tries to be all the Good Terminator films it fails to stand wholly on it’s own. It isn’t the worst of the “Terminator Franchise” by any means and it is enjoyable in it’s own right, but it falls short because it lacked the confidence to continue on threads that weren’t dependent on past films.

    The film was directed by Alan Taylor, written by Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier and produced by David Ellison and Dana Goldberg.

    The story involves John Connor (Jason Clarke) leading the final assault on Skynet headquarters in the Post-Apocalyptic future of 2029. He suceeds but not before Skynet sends back the T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) to terminate Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke). He decides to send back Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) in order to protect her. When he returns to 1984 he finds a Terminator has already been sent back to protect Sarah and the timeline has changed. It is up to them to stop Skynet before it comes online as the Timeline is in flux and the future has changed.

The Pros:  The Action – The action is really good in this. From the battle to reach Skynet’s Time Machine and shut down the core, to Pops against The Terminator and Pops, Reese and Sarah against the T-1000 and later on the fights against John Connor as the T-3000. Each fight was really well done and a pleasure to watch.

The Special Effects – The Special Effects are the best they’ve been. When the original Terminator travels back in time he looks nearly like how Arnold looked as he did in 1984. The Terminators also look great too having a dangerous and sleek look to them.

The Final Assault on Skynet – This is the story that I wish the movie had been. I wish we could have witnessed the consequences of the war like we did in “Salvation” and how it had shaped John Connor into someone who was willing to take any risks to defeat the machines and to live. In the end the decision to send Kyle Reese back is made as Skynet’s Avatar attacks and turns John Connor into a Terminator. It’s really cool and if that had been the film with the resistance dealing with the consequences of that it would have been perfect and possibly the best in the series.

J.K. Simmons – Plays a cop who is saved by Reese and pays them back later when the T-3000 is trying to kill them all. His character is wonderful as the one who has seen the robots but no one believes him. I liked the character and it was a nice touch that was different from the other films. Detective O’Brien is a great character.

Arnold Scharzenegger – Arnold is the best part of this film. We see him save Sarah Connor at the beginning and that he has developed an affection for her. It is the most range I have seen Arnold do and he truly is great at this role (Minus “Terminator 3”).

Pops – Pops is the protector and Guardian of Sarah Connor and saved her as a child. We see that his goal is to protect her and stop Skynet (like the one sent back in “T2”) and to this end he trains and prepares her for the arrival of Kyle Reese and “The Terminator.” When the Terminator arrives together they kill it and later he gets upgraded when he falls into the liquid good of the T-1000s in the final battle against the T-3000. He develops an affection for Kyle Reese and a sense of humor too.

The Terminator/T-800/Pops – This role is small but Arnold is great at looking and acting threatening, beating down Pops and nearly killing him if not for Sarah Connor’s sniper shot. It was a great though his defeat kind of defeated the purpose of Skynet’s last ditch effort to save itself…though the writers kind of ignore that when they throw in the T-1000 in the same timeline and later the T-3000. He is called Pops by Sarah.

Jason Clarke – Jason Clarke is carrying this movie with Arnold and lends a lot of humanity to the role of John Connor as someone trying to make a difference and survive in a cruel world where humans are going extinct. This leads to some tough decisions that come back to bite him later. Clarke is great as the threatening T-3000 too.

John Connor – John Connor is a man on the brink who has lost so much and forced his soldiers to make tough choices. This has cost him a lot and at the end when he is victorious his one moment of joy costs him his conscience as he is turned into a Terminator and no doubt turned on his own men he was protecting.

T-3000 – The T-3000 is a Nano Terminator and is one of the best of them as he can mimic almost perfectly and has all the knowledge of Skynet and John Connor. It takes everything to defeat him including Skynet’s last resort Time Traveling Machine to finally end the threat.

Okay: The Ending – Pops gets upgraded and everyone is in 2017. It was way too happy for me as we see Sarah and John begin to hook up, Pops respect Reese and Reese talk to his younger self and give him hope for the future. If they have sequels planned I have no idea how they will pull it off. There are no evidence of Terminators and everything feels done now without opening more cans of worms in the Timeline(s). Also, somehow the Skynet system core survived? I guess it fits the theme of survival of the story but we shouldn’t need an after credits scene to know that it does. That’s a bit too important to leave until after the credits.

The Cons: Kyle Reese – Jai Courtney can’t act. He is super generic and dull as a character and either has a blank expression or annoyed expression (sadly like Emilia Clarke in this film too) and the focus on him just brings down the plot. I didn’t care about his character because he didn’t feel real. He felt like a plot device and not like an actual human being.

Sarah Connor – Emilia Clarke like Jai Courtney is terrible in this. She is flustered most of the time and she feels shoe horned in. We don’t see her arc to become a badass she just is that way because of Pops. She also doesn’t have much of an arc. She learns to love and not fear I guess but always loved Pops anyway so the arc is irrelevant and a poor attempt to hook her up with Reese for plot reasons.

Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese Romance – These two have no chemistry. Any times where there was supposed to be sexual tension felt contrived and tacked on and it felt like Emilia and Jai were just going through the motions.

Plot Holes – Who sent Pops back? How was the T-1000 around in 1984? How was  T-1000 sent back to kill Sarah Connor as a child? Are Time Machines around everywhere in the future? Are the Terminators from other Timelines? The plot is a mess if you think too hard on it, so major con.

Too Many Time Machines – See the plot holes above. Even Pops is able to build a Time Machine….which runs counter to the fact that in “Terminator 2” they were designed to only kill and couldn’t think on a deeper level. Now everyone has a Time Machine so story has no consequence. Everybody lives!

   This was a film that would have worked if we stayed in the future, or ended with Kyle Reese being sent back. From there the story would have been complete without having to explain the Old Terminator and hiding the fact that the writers don’t know who sent him back. We could have still had a good Terminator, the good Terminator could have protected John Connor after being reprogrammed and it having to kill John Connor after Skynet possess him, instead we get the entire timeline rebooted with Skynet pretty much destroyed and Reese and Pops alive. We get a story with no consequences with gaping plot holes, though I won’t deny the ride is enjoyable and Jason Clarke and Arnold are top of their game in their roles.

Final Score: 6 / 10. Would have been the best if we had just stuck to the future and consequences of the war on Skynet and filling in the blanks for “Terminator” and “T2,” without creating more plot holes in the Timeline (and creating more Timelines).