Gunnm (1993) and Alita: Battle Angel (2019) 2-in-1 review
Gunnm (1993) and Alita: Battle Angel (2019) 2-in-1 review
Gunnm, or Battle Angel in its US distribution, is an anime (technically in two parts) from 1993 based on the Yukito Kishiro manga comic series of the same name. Alita: Battle Angel was created by James Cameron (writer/producer) and Robert Rodriguez (Director) also based on the same series. Both films follow Alita, a cybernetic girl discovered in a scrapyard by a doctor, who discovers she possesses distinct and fantastic skills. Yes the new film opened like four weeks ago, and I even saw it the week of its release. I’m just behind that’s all… Anyway!
My last 2-in-1 review (Miss Bala) was for a remake and it’s original, however despite some strong similarities, Alita is not a direct remake of Gunnm, as they are both simply adaptations of the same source material. That makes it much easier to say that they are both very good films! And since the first is obscure and the second underperformed, I’m just going to say watch them both! And if you aren’t sold based on me talking about literally nothing in the movies themselves, I guess I should probably review these two…
One commonality in sci-fi is creativity. You are given the chance to build from the ground up and tell a story or explore themes through unique ideas. Now of course the credit for Gunnm and Alita (and Elysium) has to go to Kishiro’s graphic novel series, but since I haven’t read them, I can say that I love the stories in these films. Now Gunnm (being only an hour) takes a more direct approach and misses a chance to explore more themes here and there, while Alita explores more themes with its story and subplots, but gets a little messy here and there. I’ll get back to the negative there, but what I really want to talk about is just how much I like the actual stories in these films! You get a girl who is discovering not only who she is, but what she can do and what she wants to do with that. You get to see her grow as a character and form relationships that reflect her own character arc and where she is in it. It never hits you over the head with artificial intelligence or anything, just showing you what it means to be human in who you are and, honestly, how you are.
Each film also has an incredibly compelling subplot with Yogo (Hugo in Alita), as somebody who is also struggling to find his place, but with a very driven goal instead of someone like Dr. Ido, who is driven more by a feeling than a goal. I know those are vague, but I’m mainly just appreciating the layered characters in these layered films. Gunnm especially nails the focus with the main story, not preaching about high class and low class like Elysium, but giving us a look at the effect of negative treatment at the hands of those who are or act above them. The antagonist of each, Vector, feels perfectly crafted as a hypocritical example of this. Now while Gunnm could take more time to flesh out some little things here and there, I feel like comparing the story treatment in these two actually shows that less is more. Alita’s added subplots are mostly compelling, and they add something not only to the world, but the characters. That said, it sometimes just doesn’t stick. Adding an extra hour mostly dedicated to subplot makes it just feel a little unfocused at times, and a more narrow view would have gone a long way here.
Now on a technical level, these two are impossible to compare. Yes visual styles are fantastic in both, but they are both great adaptations of a pre-existing work, just with slightly different color palettes. The music in both is fine, but overall forgettable I feel. Gunnm might edge out Alita there too, as the early 90s style stands out a bit more than Tom Holkenborg’s score. I honestly prefer his work on Mortal Engines, as it captures the world better with a more memorable and consistent theme. What really makes Alita stand out to me however is the visuals. Alita: Battle Angel has some of the finest motion capture effects work I have seen outside of films starring Andy Serkis. Between Rosa Salazar’s physical performance and the photorealistic CGI work, just Alita the character was enough for this film to earn an effects Oscar. Won’t happen, but it should.
Speaking of Rosa Salazar, she was fantastic. Now I can’t judge the voice performances in the original original, since I watch Gunnm dubbed, but Salazar really captures the essence of the character with a subtle and strong performance that never falls into unlivable or, dare I say, inconsistent like Brie Larson’s recent turn in the MCU. I think a large part of that is simply the treatment of the characters. The film lets Alita and Salazar shine, throwing morally grey characters and complex situations into essentially a naive Terminator. The supporting cast in Alita also does a solid job, with Christoph Waltz, Mahershala Ali, Ed Skrein, and Jackie Earl Haley all holding their own as they manage the various layers (or lack of) in their characters. I never really felt like Jennifer Connelly had to be in the film, and Keean Johnson was arguably the weak link of the cast for me. That said, his story is more developed in Gunnm than Alita, so that might have something to do with it.
Overall though, these two films are quite entertaining. Gunnm is a product of cheesy 90s anime, but balances it’s tone so well that it manages to hold up. Alita rolls with the cheesy and rarely stumbles as a result, probably because of Rodriguez’s ability to also balance tone and take what could be silly and make it seem serious. For more examples, see the Spy Kids series or the Sin City films. Neither are perfect, and really Gunnm suffers from not doing enough while Alita suffers from doing too much. There’s no real wrong answer though, as both offer plenty of heart, action, and light sci-fi themes that you don’t have to debate about, but that can still engage you. The amazing visuals in Alita make me a bit more fond of that one, but whether you like anime or live action, a darker tone and rating (as Gunnm is R) or a slightly lighter approach (as Alita is PG-13), both of these films are well worth a watch! I would give them both a solid 7/10. I can’t wait to own Alita when it comes out! (On a side note, Gunnm is on Youtube.)