Director Robert Rodriguez, Starring Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Mahershala Ali, Keenan Johnson, Running time 122 minutes
Greetings my Movie Geeks!
I have been sat trying to write an opening sentence for this review, and it hasn’t been easy. Alita Battle Angel is a movie that is difficult to articulate a review about. Being released in February it has all the hallmarks of being a flop, yet there is a lot to like. It is based on a Manga by Yukito Kishiro, which gives it an already established fan base. But it’s difficult to see the general public getting on-board. Being directed by Robert Rodriguez and Produced by James Cameron suggests it will be at least a spectacle if not reaching the heights of Avatar.
Set 300 years after a catastrophic war known as ‘The Fall’ Dr Ido (Waltz) discovers the remains of a warrior cyborg in a trash yard. He rebuilds it and as she can’t remember her original name, he calls her Alita (Salazar). From then on we are introduced to the world beneath the rich floating city of Zalem, that marks the class divide.
Alita discovers that she is skilled in an ancient martial art, known as Panzer Kunst, and that she is compatible with the body and ship of the URM (United Republic of Mars). She takes the Berserker body she finds in the submerged ship but Ido won’t attach her. In defiance, she signs up to become a Hunter-Warrior a bounty hunter who hunts down criminal Cyborgs.
As she makes waves, she’s noticed by Vector (Ali) and Nova (a James Cameron look-a-like Edward Norton) his boss.
Alita attempts to break into the highly coveted Motor Ball games but quickly discovers Nova has sent people to kill her.
The premise is interesting, and its setting is so far in the future that it can’t be just dismissed. The day to day technology isn’t too far-fetched until you meet some of the cyborgs. It may be obvious from this review that this writer has no knowledge of the Manga. Unable to compare the two it is clear from what’s on screen that there are love and respect for the source material.
As a story it is fairly straight forward, it goes from A to B quickly and with ease. Despite there being numerous threats throughout the film, there isn’t any point where Alita is in danger. But that is just the story. If we look at the technical aspect of the film, it is remarkable how far filmmaking has come.
Real Life Manga
If Thanos is seen as a great technical achievement of film, Alita blows him out of the water. Alita looks real, from skin texture, movement and even the pores on her skin. Even with the large Manga stylised eyes, it isn’t as jarring or Uncanny Valley as expected. I’d go as far to say she looks amazing. If there is one technical complaint, it would be the hair seems to not move naturally. I’d even say that is just a nit-pick. If the story was too simple, the simplicity gave the filmmakers the opportunity to focus on the action and effects.
The Motor Ball games could have easily fallen into the same trap as Phantom Menace’s Pod Racing scene. But Rodriguez showed restraint and kept the scenes short, actually making the viewer want to see more of the game. They introduce us to Motor Ball as Alita is, and then later in the film she attempts to play it for real. But even then the game is short lived and mixed up with an action set piece that pushes the story further.
It’s easy to just throw things in a computer and let it churn out actions, explosions and effects, but here it’s done in an entertaining way. It’s not gratuitous or done for the sake of it, the action sequences have a reason and have thought behind them. It must be freeing for filmmakers to be able to chop characters up knowing they can survive. At the same time as having the violence be to the robot parts of characters allowing for a lower rating certificate.
If anything lets the film down, it’s the writing and confused characterisation of some of the main cast. Even though she has no memory, Alita is either battle hardened or completely naïve, which at points is a little unbelievable. Ido is overprotective to the point of suffocating until he isn’t. Jennifer Connelly’s Chiren is evil and has no sympathy for Alita until she does. It all happens very fast, and it’s understandable when the realisation hits that this is the beginning of a potential series of films.
The love story between Alita and Hugo (Johnson) is fairly overdramatic leading to one scene where Alita offers Hugo her literal heart. It’s a little on the nose and in a film with over the top cyborgs that can do crazy things it is this part that comes across most unbelievable!
Alita Battle Angel is…
This movie seems to have come from nowhere, despite Cameron owning the rights since 1990. It is a film that could only have been done now as motion capture technology is at a great standard. As the majority of the characters are cyborgs, they need to be computer generated, and this is where the film excels. I fully believed in Jackie Earle Haley’s Grewishka, and Ed Skrein’s (Not Francis) Zapan being less human than cyborg.
It is a visual treat, but the story seems to be the thing that drags it down. The love story is tacked on, and as mentioned character motivations appear and disappear within scenes. It does become a set up for a series of films which also drags the film down. Filmmakers need to realise that they’re more likely to have a franchise if they make a great stand-alone film first.
But despite this, I would recommend seeing this film on the biggest screen you can and in 3D. I actually enjoyed it, and would like to see a sequel. It has humour and heart and despite calling Alita Robot Girl, I’m glad I can say I enjoyed this film.
Seriously though, when Nova appears, I thought it was Cameron!