Alita: Battle Angel - 2019
Director(s): Robert Rodriguez
Writer(s): James Cameron, Laeta Kalogridis and Robert Rodrigues (screenplay) / Yukito Kishiro (novel)
Cinematography by: Bill Pope
Editor(s): Stephen E. Rivkin and Ian Silverstein
Cast: Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Ed Skrein, Jackie Earle Haley, Keean Johnson and Jorge Lendeborg Jr.
Alita: Battle Angel has been in development hell since 2003, due to James Cameron's other projects (Avatar and its sequels). So, when it was announced that Robert Rodriguez came on board to direct the film back in 2016, many where hesitant that a film would follow this announcement. After a few delays with its release date, we can finally see the shared vision of Cameron and Rodriguez up on the big screen, and it is one big swing taken by the duo. Let's talk about it.
The story takes place in the year 2563, 300 years after the catastrophic war known as "The Fall." One day while scavenging through a junkyard Dr. Dyson (Waltz), a cyborg scientist, finds a disembodied female cyborg (Salazar). Dr. Dyson repairs her and names her Alita, after his deceased daughter. As Alita starts to gain her memory, she discovers that she is the lone survivor from the invading forces during "The Fall," and the evil force that controls the slums sends his troops after her and her loved ones — leaving her no other option than to fight. Cameron, Kalogridis, and Rodriguez wrote the screenplay based on the popular manga, Gunnm by Yukito Kishiro, and you can see their passion for the world and the characters of the manga. We are introduced to a planet, not so different from ours (and the countless dystopian worlds of other films) and thanks to Alita's energy and enthusiasm, you want to explore and learn more of it. It helps that your lead has no memory of who she is and where she is, as it lets the audience accept all the expositional dialogue throughout the film. At the end of the day, it is another story that revolves around the "one," and you can see where it is going from a mile away. It's not bad, it's just not going to blow anyone away; story-wise.
Quick note: while this film explores to a certain extent humanity and social divide, it is not worried about doing a deep dive into the themes as it is more concern with cool action sequences. And I appreciate them for it.
The action sequences of this film - combined with genuinely impressive CGI (once you accept the style of the animation) - are beyond entertaining. The film falters with creating deep interpersonal relationships, it has a predictable plot, tons of half-baked characters, and a romance that I did not buy - but the action is worth the ticket of admission. Robert Rodriguez utilized the world and the sets to bounce off his CGI character correctly, allowing the suspension of disbelief to grow just enough that you entirely bought into all the robotic creations Alita was destroying. The score during the fights was heart pounding, and I found myself fully invested in the outcome of the battles. Murderball sequences are the best example of the use of the score, sound design and the visuals that make this film so much fun to watch.
The character designs were great, and the esthetic of the world helped the animators blend the actors with their CGI counterparts. This helps sell the acting, even though a large chunk of the actors weren't given much to play with; outside of "look badass." Salazar as Alita was the right choice for the lead, and her line delivery was by far the best of the crop. I'm beginning to suspect Waltz can only play Waltz. Mahershala Ali and Jennifer Connelly were there, products of half-baked characters.
Look, the trailer of this film is the only thing you need to know. It tells you exactly what the movie is, and what it will do for its 2hr runtime. If you see the trailer and think to yourself, “this might be fun,” chances are that you will have fun with the film. But if your reaction is the opposite, more than likely you will not enjoy your time, and your money can be spent elsewhere. Or maybe wait for it to hit a streaming platform and give it a chance, you might find yourself having a good time. I for one enjoyed this blockbuster-anime ride, for its visuals and action sequences. I respect the bold swing Cameron, and Rodriguez took, even though it looks like it will not play out as they hoped. Still, this duo is why I love movies.
Alita: Battle Angel is a Streamer!
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