In the past there have been inferior films that I have passionately championed because of small wins with gender politics. Jack Reacher: Never Go Back was a really generic spy thriller but the way it made the female lead the equal of the male was to be celebrated. Similarly Ocean’s 8 was predictable and under written but it had a group of confident women pulling off a complicated heist in a manner normally reserved for men. Now we have Alita: Battle Angel; an action spectacular with brilliant special effects and big chase and fight sequences but rather than being aimed squarely at teenage boys as is generally the case, it is demonstrably a film that will be most appreciated by teenage girls.
It isn’t just that the protagonist is an adolescent woman either, it doesn’t need to be applauded just for putting a strong female role model at the centre. This film is actually all about being a teenage girl. It’s about establishing your place in a male dominated society, it’s about finding strength amongst rampant masculinity, it’s about coming to terms with your own changing body, it’s about being good at sports, it’s about disagreeing with an overly protective parent and it’s about having an all consuming crush on someone. Sure there’s some cliche in all of that but there’s truth too. It’s as though Caitlin Moran has written a Terminator movie.
Yep, Terminator. Did I not mention that the girl at the heart of this film is a killer robot. If at this point you are put off, don’t be because that’s the other thing about Alita: Battle Angel. Unlike Jack Reacher and Ocean’s 8 this isn’t an inferior film. I understand that some critics have taken against the simple plotting but the story is well paced and nicely told. The society is in the 2500s, the blokeish bullies are cyborgs, the father is a robotics engineer, the sport is rollerball and her body is an hyper advanced alien weapon but if you can go with all of that then this film has nothing to apologise for. The action scenes are exciting and well choreographed, the design is excellent, the visual effects are faultless and that central character is captivating. The movie is directed by Robert Rodriquez (there is a bit of Spy Kids in there) and written by James Cameron and it is a return to form for both of them. (Leata Kalogridis gets a writing credit too, I knew there had to be a female voice in there somewhere.)
Adding to the film’s feminist credentials is the fact that the girl-bot is not sexualised in the way so many similar characters are. This is typical of Cameron who gave the world Sarah Connor and reinvented Ellen Ripley, less so of Rodriquez who had Salma Hayek covered only by a bikini and a python and undressed Eva Green so much in the publicity for Sin City 2 that the poster was banned. Interestingly the one female player who is sexed up a little is Jennifer Connolly’s Dr. Chiren but how nice that she is forty eight rather than twenty something so they get points for that too.
My only possible objection to Alita: Battle Angel is how obviously it sets its self up for a sequel or two. Unfortunately this robs the audience of a fully satisfying resolution but actually I’d like to see more of this lady so that’s okay. Lead actor Rosa Salazar is hidden under CGI but her endearing performance shines through and anchors everything else. This film could have been all style over substance like Cameron’s Avatar and it could have been male fantasy pseudo feminism but I don’t think it is either. These are two battles it has definitely won.