Go see Alita!
I find literature difficult to keep up with. There are so many great books, novels, comic books, and now games out there that are reimagined into films. While I do not know much about Yukito Kishiro’s manga series with the same title, I am determined to not make a fool of myself pretending I know a lot about the manga genre. Instead I will filter this story through a lens I am more aware of and that is Joseph Campbell’s the Hero’s Journey.
The Hero’s Journey is a bit of a life-cycle type breakdown of all stories and myths across time and finds core truths that all stories have in common. The cycle goes something like this— Ordinary Life > Call to Adventure > Super Natural Aid > Crossing a Threshold > Mentor Appears > Challenges + Temptations > Fall into the Abyss > Death of the Old Self > Rebirth of Awakened Self in a Transformation > Atonement > Return.
Alita Battle Angel is a dystopian film about a found-in-the-junkyard cyborg girl who is rebuilt, rebooted and trying to discover her previous life. This gorgeous sci-fi special effects film follows the hero’s journey to develop the story and reveal Alita’s character.
The Ordinary world according to Alita is a dsytopian wasteland that thrives on separation of class from the sky city to the land dwellers. What is normal in this world is immediately set up in the opening scene by showing a junking and scavenger economy where to get ahead you must scrap or steal robotic parts from others. The film starts with Dr. Dyson Ido (Christopher Waltz) rummaging through a major trash heap in the city center. There he discovers Alita’s head and fully intact brain.
Super Natural Aid I believe this world is already super natural in that it is very advanced in it’s robotics. Dr. Dyson is smarter and more knowledgable that most and he takes it upon himself to rebuild and revive Alita.
Alita awakens and discovers she has a new body with a delicate feminine decor. Dr. Dyson is careful not to expose her to too much too soon yet she knows she is more. Alita’s Call to Adventure happens one night when she follows suspicious behavior in Dr. Dyson. She suspects he is a murderer of women.
Alita Crosses a Threshold by engaging threatening characters once she discovers that Dyson is a good guy. He is a bounty hunter who is trying to find the real killer. Dyson is surrounded by enemies in a back alley. Alita’s intervenes with a unique set of fighting skills, which are deeply programmed in her super-brain. A feature that even surprises her!
The relationship between Dr. Dyson and Alita deepens as she fully accepts him as her Mentor and she discovers he is a bounty hunter for criminals. She registers as a bounty hunter as well.
Alita comes up against several human Challenges in her development. She begins to feel a forbidden love for a young man Hugo (Keean Johnson) who is a street punk type involved in a crime ring that steals parts from cyborgs. Can a human love a cyborg? Better yet, can a cyborg love a human? Very Blade Runner!
She struggles to be accepted by her young peers in common social interactions and street games. She is undermined for her size and gender by larger and more experienced male gendered cyborgs. All the while trying hard to remember who she was before she was revived by Dyson so most of the first part of the film Alita is in a bit of an identity crisis. Hugo having compassion for her takes her to a shipwreck where Alita discovers she is synced with the ship and returns out of the wreckage with a new body (unattached to her).
While trying to establish herself in an epic bounty hunter bar which (of course) ends in an epic bar fight scene (awesome) Alita falls into the Abyss and her current body is destroyed.
Death of the Old Self is the essential hero transformation in any story. It is probably the single most reason we psychically enjoy films. We want to believe in change. We want to believe that we will overcome challenges and not let other tear us down. This is perfectly shown in Alita Battle Angel as Dr. Dyson reluctantly attaches Alita to the found cyborg body from the wreckage. Alita was a United Republic of Mars warrior (enemy) and now she is transformed into a protector of men. She is Reborn!
I don’t want to totally ruin the film for those who haven’t seen it and are being bad and reading past my spoiler — you know who you are! Yet, Alita character continues on the development and hero path and there is an Atonement in the last quarter of the film.
As a result of this ending event Alita pledges to make it to the sky city… So the film actually cuts off right before the return.. which suggests to me there is definitely going to be a part two to this and possibility a whole series much like The Hunger Games. It is a beautiful film that has strong story structure that could easily be more films.