Review – Alita: Battle Angel (2019)

by Kevin Muller

Alita: Battle Angel is a project that has been in development for over twenty years. It was supposed to be the follow up film for James Cameron immediately following Titanic. Then, Cameron got deep into the world of Pandora with his characters from his hugely successful Avatar film, which he’s currently making four back to back sequels that will be released over the next ten years. Enter Robert Rodriguez, who has directed Desperado, Sin City, and the Spy Kids movies, to take on the long awaited project.

Over 500 years into the future, the world is separated into the high and low class. The rich live in a floating city, Zalem, while the less fortunate survive below in Iron City.    Cybertronics is currently a way of life for those who have mechanical parts, along with those doctors skilled enough to perform those surgeries. One doctor, Dr. Dyson Ido, played by Oscar winner Christoph Waltz, does most of his work for free or accepts goods for his services. The Great War has left Earth in shambles, and Zalem uses the surface to dump its garbage. While searching through it, Ido discovers a wrecked cyborg, whose brain is still attached. After a few tune ups, the cyborg is up and running with a new name, Alita, after Ido’s deceased daughter. Even though she has gained a second life, she has no memories of how or why she wound up in the trash. Alita is curious about the world that now surrounds her. She walks around with the same wonderment as an adolescent discovering the world around her. Cameron, who co-wrote the screenplay with Laeta Kalogridis, gives her a love interest named Hugo.  Hugo isn’t a squeaky clean boy though, he is involved with shady activities run by the film’s villain, Vector. Vector runs a death sport called, Motorball, where competitors must protect a ball, while trying to score points, from their opponents who can use any means necessary to steal it. Alita dreams to compete while having certain memories of her past start to come back to her. She also seems to be a threat to Vector and the higher ups and has a bounty placed on her head. Who was she? Where did she come from?

The film is definitely an origin story that spends most of its time setting up the world while giving us a brief look into who Alita was, which will be further expanded in future films. Rosa Salazar is actually very good as the lead character. Though Alita is fully CGI, Salazar is definitely there in the movements, acting, and emotion of her digital counterpart. James Cameron has always been excellent at creating strong, but relatable, female protagonists, and Alita is right up there with his other creations.  Sure, she can kick your ass, seven ways to Sunday, but she also has a vulnerability that Salazar perfectly captures. Her two time Oscar winning costar, Christoph Waltz, who plays Ido, is sort of a mixed bag. While he performs all the emotional scenes quite well, he seems awkward in the battle scenes. It isn’t just the choreography, but Waltz himself. The classically trained actor seems to have trouble letting himself fully go into this part. These comic book films all require great actors who will bring out the potential in the material, but also must let go of any reservations when doing stunts in these films. Your inner child must come out, especially in this film, where the entire world is computer generated. Waltz seems to be holding back and it’s a drag in the action sequences to see that.

The same can’t be said for Salazar who fully embraces the thrill of being thrown into this world. As far as the world, it is beautifully realized with some damn impressive animation. In IMAX 3D, you feel fully immersed into it. Robert Rodriguez has done a fantastic job with bringing to life both the Manga comic and Cameron’s vision. Even the cyborgs are animated fantastically and these creations move fluidly. This observation is hammered home during the action sequences that are just as respectfully animated as the quieter scenes.

There is a lot of story to cover, and the movie does a pretty decent job as a whole, but there are some spots where it is a bit weak. Most of the flaws come in the third act, where it seems to rush through a lot of places involving Alita and her love interest Hugo. The ending will be essential for the character’s growth, but felt a little off. While 2005’s Batman Begins was an origin story that had an interesting story, that not only served as the base for the whole trilogy, but was damn fine on its own. Alita is banking on the sequel, so this feels more of a set up for bigger things to come. There have been worse origin stories that have been released, so it isn’t that much of a criticism.

Alita: Battle Angel is definitely the movie event that was promised for over 20 years. The film is full of action, heart, a vast world, and a great lead character. Plus, the visuals are beautiful, and if it gets a sequel, the sky is the limit with what we will see in these future films.

I am giving Alita: Battle Angel a 3.5  out of 5 Hairpieces!

 

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