James Cameron's long-gestating manga-inspired passion project is finally in theaters, and it's a much more faithful adaptation than I, or likely a lot of other people, expected. For its runtime, I was actually invested in Alita's journey...but not so much for the other characters.
The premise is this: Doctor for cyborgs/humans Dyson Ido finds what remains of the titular character in a scrapyard in a place called Iron City. He brings her to life by attaching her to a new body, and from there, she goes on a journey to discover her self in a world divided by what's on the ground (Iron City) and the floating city in the sky with a legendary aura (Zalam). Yes, it's oversimplifying and yes it's been done a million times. The uniqueness in this case is the visuals of the story. It's hard to describe Alita's look because I can't say I've seen a setting or characters quite like this before and that is the movie's strong suit. Perhaps bits and pieces here and there but not combined like this. Give Yukito Kishiro's manga full props for excellent world building.
Alita herself is extraordinarily acted by Rosa Salazar. Her journey from naive teenager to confident killing machine genuine and organic. The same can't be said for the side characters, like Ido, who at least feels fatherly, and Hugo, the love interest who doesn't feel as captivating. Also, the story pacing suffers from having to compress multiple story arcs in one movie, and the exposition is an necessary, albeit jarring evil. One of the characters' motivations turns on a dime near the end of the film and felt like something that would have taken an arc in the manga. (Full disclosure: I am not familiar with the manga.) The other downside is the need for the film to set up a sequel, as it gave me the feeling of the movie not trusting itself to work as a standalone piece.
The action sequences are where the film really shines. Robert Rodriguez's clearly honed his craft from those Spy Kids films (not being facetious whatsoever). Yes, these are CG characters, but the framing is coherent enough that we can actually follow what's happening. The motorball sequence, in particular, is a fun, frenetic set piece, even though the rules are not quite explained.
There are some world-building issues (like why do some cyborgs retain human faces?) but that is to be expected in a film that managed to compress quite a lot of manga into its runtime. Overall, Alita is a better than OK movie with a weak story that is buoyed by excellent visuals and action sequences.