Alita: Battle Angel (PG-13), a movie aimed at tweens and teens, opens this weekend. It has plenty of positive messages, but a few content problems, too.
Alita is a confident and independent young woman living in the year 2563 who would give anything to remember her past.
But so far, she can’t even remember how to eat an orange. It needs to be peeled—she is told—and not eaten like an apple.
“That is so good,” she says after her first bite.
It’s understandable Alita has a poor memory. She’s 300 years old. She is a cyborg—part human, part robot—who was left for dead in a pile of junk, after a major war three centuries ago destroyed much of Earth. People called the war “The Fall.”
Yet somehow, her brain barely stayed alive. A local scientist named Dyson Ido found her head and torso, carried it back to his lab, and attached it to a robotic body. Incredibly, she came back to life.
“I don’t even know my own name,” she said at first. Ido named her “Alita” after his deceased daughter.
Alita isn’t the only cyborg in town. Cyborgs are everywhere. Alita and Dr. Ido live in Iron City, a heavily populated dystopian town where survival is a daily chore, and police don’t exist. In their place, cyborg bounty hunters known as “hunter warriors” walk the streets and keep the peace. They also kill murderers… on the spot.
These hunter warriors are big and mean. Alita is thin and short. But something strange happens late one night when she gets caught in a fight between a hunter warrior and three bad guys. She whips the evil dudes—with ease. She also has a flashback to her past, a time when she was a deadly soldier with deadly skills, caught up in a war.
Alita: Battle Angel (PG-13) opens this weekend, starring Rosa Salazar (Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials) as Alita; Christopher Waltz (The Legend of Tarzan, Muppets Most Wanted) as Ido; Mahershala Ali (Green Book) as the bad guy, Vector; and Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind) as a doctor and Vector’s romantic interest, Chiren. It is based on the Japanese comic book series, Gunnm.
The film has the feel of the 2009 film Avatar, and for good reason. It was written and produced by Avatar creator James Cameron. Avatar producer Jon Landau also helped make Alita. But unlike Avatar—which was fully CGI—Alita: Battle Angel features a combination of CGI and live action. Alita herself is a mixture of both, with Salazar’s facial skin surrounded by CGI hair and a CGI body. She also has gigantic eyes that appear borrowed from a Ty Beanie stuffed animal. Quirky, yes, but visually compelling, too.
The story follows Alita as she fights evil in the Iron City and then learns the skill of Motorball, a dangerous sport for cyborgs that looks like a combination of roller derby and handball. Every few years, the champion of Motorball is given the chance to move to Zalem, the city in the sky where the wealthy live. It hovers just above Iron City.
Warning: minor/moderate spoilers!
(Scale key: none, minimal, moderate, extreme)
Extreme. Alita is more violent than your average PG-13 superhero film, partially because we watch cyborgs—who have a human face but a robotic body—get killed multiple ways during fights. Arms are cut off. Torsos are sliced in two. A few times, we see heads decapitated. Once, we see a cyborg sliced from head to groin. Another time, a cyborg’s human face is partially cut off. Hunter warriors brag about how many people they’ve killed.
Minimal/moderate. Alita’s robotic outfit is skin-tight, but for most of the film she’s wearing regular clothes. We see Chiren in a slightly revealing bedtime outfit. Alita’s friend and romantic interest, Hugo, is seen without a shirt. She and Hugo share a kiss.
Moderate. The movie has little-to-no language for about half the film until Alita drops an f-bomb in a critical scene. It seems out of place for a character who doesn’t curse any other time. That’s too bad, because the film otherwise has little coarse language: h-ll (2), s–t (1) and b–ch (1).
Other Positive Elements
Alita has no family, but Ido becomes her adoptive-like dad. She eventually calls him “father.”
Other Stuff You Might Want To Know
Alita’s body formerly belonged to Ido’s disabled daughter, who couldn’t walk. He built it for her, although she was murdered before she could use it.
Alita is a likeable superhero who makes the rights choices. “I do not stand by in the presence of evil,” she says. She’s courageous. She’s a leader. She uses her powers for good.
But she lives in a city that knows nothing of grace and mercy. It’s a place where innocent people die and guilty people go free. It’s also a place where cyborgs often have their body parts—read “arms” and “legs”—stolen during late-night street attacks. Those parts are then used by Motorball officials.
It’s a world without police. That alone is worth discussing with young fans of the film.
The movie’s presentation of a “city above” and a “city below” may have spiritual parallels, but without more details, application is difficult (Then there’s the problem of the “city above” housing the lead bad guy). A sequel apparently will fill in the blanks.
The film’s message about death and morality is worth exploring. Alita lives in a futuristic city where death can be cheated—sort of—by preserving the brain. In fact, we watch Alita keep a human friend alive by severing the head (that grotesque part is done off screen) and taking it to a lab, where it will be attached to a robotic body.
Although futuristic, the concept is very modern. The U.S. and Russia are home to private “cryonics” facilities that will freeze an individual’s deceased body at a low temperature in hopes it can be brought back to life when technology advances.
But before we criticize such people as “nuts,” we should examine our own beliefs. We live in a society that worships youth. We’re chasing after immortality, too.
The irony: Immortality is already obtainable to anyone who trusts in Christ. That’s what Paul says in 1 Cor. 15:53: “For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.” Yes, our bodies will die, but our souls—if we’re saved—will live with God forever. Scientific advances aren’t needed.
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Visually, the film is beautiful. Additionally, the ending had me ready to watch the sequel.
The film has too much violence, which is magnified because the cyborgs appears to be human.
Also, the f-bomb doesn’t fit. It’s as if the filmmakers were begging the ratings board for a PG-13 label.
1. What does the Bible say about immortality? What is the message about immortality in the movie?
2. One character says, “I’d rather rule in Hell than serve in Heaven.” What would God think of that?
3. Name three positive (even biblical) traits about Alita.
4. What did you think about the film’s violence?
Entertainment rating: 3 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars.
Battle Angel is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and
for some language.