Alita, the Battle Angel, fights her feminist critics

Summary: Alita is fun and beautifully done, and well worth seeing. Feminists’ reviews were savage. Their attacks reveal much about them and the new puritanism (ideological, not religious) sweeping America.

Alita, Battle Angel

Alita: Battle Angel is a faithful adaption of the manga by the same name. After two decades in limbo on James Cameron’s full plate of ideas, Alita received praise across the board from the the author Yukito Kishiro, fans of the manga, as well as newcomers to the story. The film is a success in the West, and has surged to #1 in the Chinese box office.

Battle Angel Alita Creator Yukito Kishiro Is ‘Super-Honored’ By the Film” by Brandon Zachary at CBR.

But something went wrong. One might expect feminists to praise Alita as they did previous film heroines such as Wonder Woman. But they didn’t. Feminist critics almost all condemned the film. Many accused Alita of sexism after watching the trailers {just as those on the Right did to Captain Marvel}. On Rotten Tomatoes, Alita currently scores a just-barely rotten rating of 59%. Why do they reject it? It’s probably more than her abnormally large anime eyes. Examination of the movie and its themes reveals a possible reason.

Alita in a street fight
Real girls love street fights!

The Setting.

300 years after “The Fall,” Alita’s broken head (with its human brain) is cast from the sky-city Zalem (Zion?) onto the hellish landscape below. Dr. Dyson Ido discovers her, and gives her the name of his deceased daughter and the lovingly-crafted robotic body built for her. The body is pure white, resembling ivory or porcelain – making Alita an idealized caricature of the prepubescent daughter Ido lost.

As she grows, Alita meets increasingly difficult challenges in the form of cyborg assassins sent by the overseer of “The Factory,” Vector (later revealed to be a puppet of Nova, a bigger bad guy up in Zalem). Along the way Alita discovers herself, comes to terms with her father figure Ido and her step-mother, and meets her first love.

Alita in combat
It’s the fighting rage that marks a real girl in 21st C America!

The Inspiration.

Iron City – the sprawling cyberpunk ghetto below Zalem – is a desperate world in which many humans are enhanced with robotic limbs and other implants. People probably took these enhancements willingly. How could a normal blue-collar person compete in an economy of cyborgs with super-human strength and agility? Alita is inevitably drawn into the “bread and circuses” of Iron City, Motorball, an updated spin on Rollerball.

As in Cameron’s previous films, characters and scenery come together beautifully, with insights beyond the source material. Cameron delayed Alita by choosing to direct Avatar. He then passed the reins to Robert Rodriguez – along with a 180 page script (scripts are typically one minute of screen time per page) and 600 pages of notes. Rodriguez whittled it down to a more digestible two hours. Avatar proved to be an important test. CGI characters often fall into the Uncanny Valley – too realistic to be accepted as cartoon characters, but not convincing enough to be accepted by audiences as real people. Avatar proved audiences could empathize with a parahuman CGI character.

Interview with ‘Alita: Battle Angel’ Producer Jon Landau on the Film’s Long Road to the Big Screen” at /Film.

Alita with her teddy bear
Scenes like this enraged feminists!

The Girl.

Alita awakes as an amnesiac with no memories at all, a naive child who doesn’t know to peel on orange before eating it. During the movie she hits milestones of growth in rapid succession, accelerated by flashes of her memories returning. Alita grows bored and then irritated at being the surrogate for Ido’s daughter and ventures into the world on her own.

She meets and falls in love with Hugo, a charming rogue who takes her on adventures across Iron City. Their early relationship is similar to Disney’s Aladdin with Jasmine. Both girls wander away from their fathers and almost immediately get in trouble. Jasmine almost loses her hand to an angry shopkeeper, and Alita is almost run over by a giant security robot. Like Aladdin, Hugo saves her and shows her the world, except on his motorcycle rather than a magic carpet.

Finding increasing power in herself, Alita tires of being led around by Hugo. and further frustrated by Ido refusing to take her on his nocturnal hunts for criminals. She drags Hugo along on an ill-conceived adventure of her own, ending in a violent initiation into adulthood.

She resembles another hero, Luke Skywalker. If the parallels are deliberate, they were a good idea. Luke is widely liked in the USA and Japan. It’s notoriously difficult to create a story that appeals to both audiences. Alita’s fight with her first nemesis, the cyborg Grewishka, has striking similarities to Luke’s first confrontation with Darth Vader. Alita’s first fight matches Luke’s in tone, taking place in a gloomy environment with cool, depressing colors.

Grewishka shatters Alita like a porcelain doll. Ido, Hugo and a helpful cyborg drive Grewishka away before he can kill her. Seeing no other choice, Ido transplants Alita into the super-powerful berserker body she found earlier but which he refused to let her have. Alita is reborn.

Alita eats chocolate
Do real girls like chocolate?

The Controversy: feminists object!

Alita isn’t Cameron’s first empowered heroine. Previously he has helped bring to life two of the most popular heroines in modern science fiction: Ellen Ripley in in Alien and Sarah Connor in The Terminator.

Despite Alita’s heroism and her producer’s track record, feminist viewers panned the movie as sexist. In hindsight, they would probably reject Cameron’s earlier heroines if he released them today, for similar reasons.

For example, Alita, Ripley and Sarah all have limitations and failures. Ripley’s superiors don’t believe her story of aliens. Everyone thinks Sarah is insane (including her son in Terminator 2). The other hunter-warriors laugh at Alita when she tries to recruit them to fight Grewishka (which gives her another similarity to Luke in his first movie. His friends often find his inexperience annoying). New feminist heroes have to be perfect, and they have to always win. Wonder Woman and Rey never lose at anything, and the upcoming Captain Marvel probably won’t either.

Alita with her boyfriend
Outrageous! We want only asexual fighting machines!

But Alita’s sins most egregious sins against feminist theory are sexual in nature. Her desires often drive her, although they mature as she does. As a child she wants chocolate instead of dinner. Later she wants Hugo’s attention and then his physical affection. This causes her to often act foolishly. She pulls her heart out of her chest and begs Hugo to sell it to achieve his dream. She joins Hugo in his ill-fated project to acquire the money need to go to Zalem. In a teenage argument with dad, she smashes a table. Alita wants to grow up too fast. Ido doesn’t want her to grow up at all.

As Alita matures, she outgrows her first boyfriend and comes to terms with her parental figures. She brings those around her to deeper maturity, as well. Alita provokes a change of heart in Ido’s ex-wife Chiren, who up to that point served as Vector’s accomplice. Ido becomes supportive of Alita’s dreams (in the closing act she calls him “father” for the first time).

After Alita loses her child’s body in her fight with Grewishka, she receives her new adult berserker body. This is a focus of feminist rage. The star of Alita, Rosa Salazar, describes the scene.

“Alita finds and is given her new Berserker Body, and it’s really interesting because she’s going from 14 to 18. That’s a whole, formative experience for a woman. It’s a very delicate time for a woman’s body. She goes from a child-like [figure], a flatter chest, a more proportionate young teen body, to a woman’s body.”

Alita offers her heart
Alita offers her heart. But no romance allowed in the 21st C. Just hookups and casual sex!

Many reviewers were horrified. Molly Freedman at Screenrant saw this as a flimsy justification to give her a sexualized body.

In the words of Katie Walsh at the Daily Sun …

“Co-writer James Cameron has embarrassingly described “Alita: Battle Angel” as a metaphor for female puberty, and the filmmakers execute that symbolism in truly bone-headed fashion with her new fighting body. Like the rest of the film, it’s so insane it has to be seen to be believed.”

By Kayleigh Donaldson at Pajia had this to say about the movie’s treatment of Alita: “Why Are Sexist Creeps Pitting Captain Marvel Against Alita: Battle Angel?

“It’s the sort of narrative that thinks any woman who can punch a guy harder than he can punch her is empowerment, even as she literally offers her heart to a man who has been stabbing her in the back for months. It’s familiar to anyone who’s ever seen a movie, and the power dynamic is clear. She may be powerful but she’s never seen the ‘real world’ before. The first guy she bumps into who isn’t her dad can show it to her and leave her enraptured.”

Feminist rage at female sexuality may not make sense to others, but it is apparent in their character design. Wonder Woman, Rey and Captain Marvel are de-sexualized in comparison to their predecessors. Wonder Woman has no cleavage like she almost universally did in past adaptations. Rey is heavily bundled up and her chest wrapped to look as flat as possible. Captain Marvel’s uniform is almost shapeless and looks no different than the costumes worn by her male counterparts (but that’s the point isn’t it).

The issue isn’t that Cameron’s movies and characters aren’t feminist. Feminist doctrine itself has moved on without him.

Alita on the street

Editor’s note about Battle Angel

Alita tells of a warrior woman who recovers her memories and learns her powers – becoming the strongest of the strong. Captain Marvel tells of a warrior woman who recovers her memories and learns her powers – becoming the strongest of the strong. This story must appeal to us, for mysterious reasons.

Contrast Alita with Captain Marvel: Captain Marvel – fun for kids, swill for adults.

A note about the FM website

Events have proved that I have been wrong about the core principles animating the FM website project. I have a post explaining why, and where to go from here.

Meanwhile, quality content has piled up. Tomorrow I’ll review Captain Marvel. Then I will post my bleak and grim vision. We are online again, but the emphasis and recommendations will differ – but I am uncertain how. It’s a journey on a dark path.

For more information

Ideas! For some shopping ideas, see my recommended books and films at Amazon.

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all film reviews, posts about heroes, and especially these …

  1. See Solo, a Star Wars film that says much about America.
  2. Incredibles 2, a Father’s Day gift from Disney.
  3. See “Constantine” – challenging your ideas about God and the good.
  4. Mary Poppins shows us how we’ve changed since 1964.
  5. Aquaman rocks. Also, the future of superhero flicks.

See the first film about Alita (1993)

It is a different film, and does not follow the manga as closely. It ends on a very different note.

26 thoughts on “Alita, the Battle Angel, fights her feminist critics”

  1. ”For example, Alita, Ripley and Sarah all have limitations and failures.”

    Limitations make characters relatable. And the realistic limitations of women in comparison to men make it believable.

    They are presented as genuine many dimensional human beings rather than as flat obnoxious Mary Sues.

    There are elements of femininity coupled with masculine virtues in each although augmented by Tech and superpowers.

    Invoking the Mama Bear archtype in 2 of those characters in which they protect a child as a mother does her children. In real life women will be granted temporary super-strength to protect their offspring:

    https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1190759/Mighty-mothers-superhuman-strength-lift-1-400kg-car-run-schoolboy.html

    https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/extreme-fear/201011/yes-you-really-can-lift-car-trapped-child

    And other possible feats.

    And in the case of Alita what a young woman would do if she has the abilities and inclinations of a warrior with the necessary tech and if her loved ones are threatened.

  2. Did conservatives really attack Captain Marvel after only seeing the trailer, or was it seeing the trailer AND listening to the feministic rants of Bree whatsername? I didn’t care about the reviews or the complaints one bit but after hearing her spout off over and over again, I probably won’t see CM. I am, however, interested in Alita and for the record, I am not a huge fan of James Cameron after his incessant progressive spouting in movies like Avatar. This one, however, looks good.

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor

      Heresolong,

      We can only guess. But having the title star spew hatred about the largest single demographic of fans for the film’s genre – has to have an effect.

      But we might learn the opposite, that hatred pays off well in modern America. The effects of that lesson, if so, might dwarf any impact of the film.

      More broadly – my guess (guess!) is that almost all these superhero films will be forgotten in a few years. They fill some need in us at this odd moment. They’ll be film school case studies, but ignored by the public. Like other box office giants that didn’t outlive their moment. ET was the big hit of 1982, leaving The Thing and Blade Runner in the dust. But those are still classics – and I believe will be watched for at least a few more generations – while ET is unknown or mocked by today’s youth.

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor

      dragnet,

      Wait until you see my revised beliefs about America and our future. Dark. Very dark. You might find Netflix, HBO, or the NY Times a better source of entertainment.

      1. Anyways you’re rarely entertaining, but almost always thought provoking. That’s why I come back.

      2. Larry Kummer, Editor

        dragnet,

        “Anyways you’re rarely entertaining,”

        Exactly right. I have no interest in joining the crowds of people providing info-tainment to make Americans feel “informed” and “engaged” – while remaining passive and apathetic. I’ve even less interest in describing enemies on whom we can blame our irresponsibility.

        For details see A picture of America, showing a path to political reform.

    2. Yes, welcome back. I too think the future probably is dark. The most striking one-liner you have recently come up with is that America reminds you of Athens before the Sicilian Expedition. That is profoundly true. And dark.

  3. I saw Toy Story 3 on a flight awhile back and now I’m into cuckolding. Thanks a lot Frankfurt School.

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor

      Re: Kuratowski’s comment

      Always amazing to see how many people deny the influence of media, despite 2300 years of western writing about it – and the vast scientific literature about it.

      Keep those eyes closed! Who knows what scary things you might if you open them.

      1. I’m serious though. I used to be a strong alpha but then I chose “Toy Story 3” from that United Inflight Entertainment screen and slowly became a beta cuck. This is what Herbert Marcuse tried to achieve in the 60s. He never saw his plans come to fruition but they are a reality now.

      2. Larry Kummer, Editor

        Kuratowski,

        That makes no sense to me. It sounds like a troll’s comment, but who can tell these days?

  4. Gaius Gracchus

    Welcome back! I don’t come here to be entertained, but to find thought provoking comments.

    Thanks for this review. I was planning to skip this one, but I will check it out.

    In 2014, I told my friends we had 15 years or less. The oligarchy had become too divorced from the country and the people and inequality had expanded too much.

    I give us a 20% of surviving our elites and their battle with Trump. And that is likely optimistic…..

  5. Great to read your writing again.

    Most people on here see a dark time ahead, at best 20 years of debt over hang and sub-par growth, we fear worse.(a la Robert Gordon, Satijit Das or Bob Prince /Ray Dalio etc).

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor

      Just a guy,

      “Most people on here see a dark time ahead”

      True. Most buy into the delusional fears stoked by Left and Right to make them malleable followers: the climate change apocalypse (unlike anything predicted by the IPCC), the debt apocalypse, etc.

      We’re in trouble in part because everybody is running around with fire extinguishers while the ship is sinking.

      1. It will be interesting to read your revised diagnosis.

        Like many other people I have a sense of something gone profoundly wrong, can point readily enough to lots of scattered symptoms which individually evidence that sense, but find it difficult or impossible to come to a clear sense of even what the fundamental cause really is, assuming there is one, still less what we could all do about it.

  6. Welcome back, Larry. Really missed your writings for the last month. Glad to see you’re back in action.

  7. Good to see you back! Look forward to your revised thinking. You’ve revised mine over time. Remember how skeptical I was 15 years ago when I bagan reading your thoughts on our dying Republic.

    Apathy is one thing but there are those elected bent on destroying our Republic. I refer to “those monkeys in the Controll Room”.

    Again, I look forward to your posts and comments.

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor

      Star of Elyon,

      Hypocrisy is a venial sin, but especially annoying in those who claim moral superiority over the rest of us. As Tanner explains in Shaw’s “Man and Superman.”

      “We all lie; we all bully as much as we dare; we all bid for admiration without the least intention of earning it; we all get as much rent as we can out of our powers of fascination. …She will do just what she likes herself whilst insisting on everybody else doing what the conventional code prescribes. In short, I can stand everything except her confounded hypocrisy.

  8. A couple days before watching Alita: Battle Angel for the first time (8 in total) I was thinking, watching a trailer for Captain Marvel, why can’t we get a fun sci-fi adventure, with interesting characters and NO magic. And I stress the word fun, because there are some good sci-fi movies, but there are most definitely not in the fun category.
    And then I went and saw Alita, and this was a wish fulfillment… Her powers are explained with antimatter micro reactor and proper application of mass and momentum ;) and not “Blue Cube”. When they show her on the moon she is wearing a HELMET!! :) She is using real martial arts, saw a video on YouTube where some analyzed her movements frame for frame and praising proper feet position, movements and angles which provide max. power amplification.
    When the movie makes so much right, by grounding itself in reality, I can more easily accept all other outlandish concepts it may have.

    1. Alita wasn’t a blockbuster, but has a dedicated fanbase. People will probably still be watching it in 10, 20, or 30 years. It would be unfortunate if there’s no sequels, but it stands on its own two feet.

      1. Larry Kummer, Editor

        Ian,

        As I said upthread, I suspect that films like Alita will be watched when most of the current blockbuster superhero (and Star Wars) films are gathering dust in the archives. Think of ET vs. two other films released in 1982: Blade Runner and The Thing.

  9. Excellent review of not only the movie but your commentary on the feminist perspective. Keep up the great work!

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor

      Rodney,

      This was Ian’s first review published here. I too look to see more of them!

      He has a follow-up coming soon comparing Alita and Captain Marvel.

  10. The wife and I took our son to see this. One of the better movies I have seen in a long time. Hopefully they will do a sequel, but knowing James Cameron that is a long shot. Though technically, he handed this project over to Robert Rodriguez so there’s still hope. I agree with the summation that this movie will have staying power and remain a cult classic for decades to come. I will definitely buy this movie when it comes out on BluRay!

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