It would appear that most moviegoers are walking into movie theaters to see Alita: Battle Angel with open eyes (though not quite as open as the titular character's). Though it's just barely "Rotten" on Rotten Tomatoes, 93 percent of audiences liked it. Rotten Tomatoes' rating systems are far from perfect, but they're a good enough barometer to get a sense of what people things about a new movie. We can dig a little deeper, though, and it appears that one of the things fans are most excited about is that Alita: Battle Angel is quite possibly the best manga adaptation that Hollywood has ever pulled off.
"Leave it to James Cameron to discover how you bring a manga to the big screen," writes Max Covill at Film School Rejects. "The secret, it turns out, is that you don't mess up the source material."
Granted, it's a pretty low bar. Consider some of the times Hollywood has tried to make a live-action version of a classic manga. You've got duds like Ghost in the Shell, stinkers like Netflix's Death Note, and the truly awful Dragonball: Evolution movie — and that's even before we address all the problematic whitewashing. Alita: Battle Angel, though, is getting a thumbs-up.
"All movies based on anime usually get tore [sic] into the f***ing ground because it doesn't do the anime justice," a post on the /r/BoxOffice subreddit reads. "This seems like it does the exact opposite and satisfying fans of the series is always a good thing."
Alita: Battle Angel makes plenty of deviations from Yukito Kishiro's seminal manga, but it certainly keeps the episodic nature of the original, which was released in chapters and volumes. That's perhaps why it ends the way it does, a cliffhanger that feels like it's only the start of a story because it is. Not everyone loved this clear sequel-bait, and Polygon's Karen Han notes that the film falls into a trap that lots of would-be franchise-starters have.
"The bottom line seems to be that films like Mortal Engines and Alita are big enough to greenlight, but small enough to fail," Han writes. "It's the hope of a franchise that justifies the budgets behind both films, but seemingly either a lack of enough of an existing fan base or an excess of imagination (or perhaps both) that have prevented them from finding a significant audience."
"When trilogies are planned to be trilogies from the beginning, this is acceptable. Folks leaving the theater know there will be more to come back to in the next film," writes Wired's Angela Watercutter on the film's frustrating lack of an ending. "With Alita, there's no guarantee of a sequel. In fact, Cameron has said he's wary of scheduling one before this movie has proven itself."
Hardcore manga fans no-doubt know that there's more to the Alita story than can fit in one movie, but casual viewers don't, especially because Alita isn't quite as well-known in the U.S. as some other mangas. Furthermore, the movie itself doesn't hint that it's only the first part of many, meaning the ending feels a bit like you've been tricked into running into a brick wall.
Elsewhere online, fans on the main Reddit thread discussing the movie agreed that Alita's love interest Hugo (Keenan Johnson) was the movie's worst character.
"So we all agree that pretty boy was the weakest character in the movie right?" the top comment reads. "His acting was straight out of a Disney TV live-action movie."
A Refinery29 article lays out the differences between Hugo in the movie and in the original manga, and while they're mostly the same, Hugo was kind of a much worse dude in the manga. Perhaps if Alita: Battle Angel had kept Hugo a little rougher around the edges, moviegoers wouldn't have minded him so much.