Review: Alita: Battle Angel

Alita: Battle Angel
8 10

A project long in the making, ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL was once to be the next hot thing from director James Cameron, who penned the script and toiled over it for years before eventually moving on to his new career with movies about blue aliens. Based on the long-running manga series "Battle Angel Alita" by Yukito Kishiro (and an animated film from 1993), which followed the exploits of a female cyborg named Alita who is discovered in a junk pile by a cybernetics doctor, who repairs and brings her back to life, only to discover that she has amnesia. However, there is much more to Alita than even the doctor will reveal to her, and as she begins to regain her memory she finds that she's much more than she could ever have imagined.

That premise is relatively unchanged in the film version with a few creative leaps taken here and there. Directed by Robert Rodriguez (SIN CITY, DESPERADO, FROM DUSK TILL DAWN) in a much more scaled-back role, acting solely as writer/director, rather than wearing his usual additional hats including photography, editing, music, etc. Having taken Cameron's massive original script and edited it down to fit a solo film effort, Rodgriguez makes the most focused effort in directing since SIN CITY, effectively creating a James Cameron film. Some may argue that the vision should rest squarely in his style, and much of it does, but his intent was always to make a Cameron film, which, luckily, he pulls off quite well.

Starring Rosa Salazar in a mo-cap performance that seeks to replicate her mannerisms and emotion in a fully-realized digital character, with her audio intact, ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL had a tall order to fill. If Salazar's performance didn't work and the VFX (by the masterful artists at WETA Digital) fell short, it simply wouldn't work. Luckily, it does work. Alita is an all-encompassed character and you can't help but fall for her charm, her naivete, her power and her emotion. She is, for all intents and purposes, a fully-rounded teenage girl (ahem, cyborg) that suffers and succeeds many of the familiar things all teenage girls do, minus the whole finding out you have a talent for dispatching bad guys with relative ease in a fighting style long thought extinct. So much of ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL rests on the shoulders of the lead, both in Salazar and her digital counterpart, and it's executed with thoughtful, caring precision, making her not only a badass warrior, but a flawed and complex character that finds plenty of pain and hurt on her journey to realizing her full destiny.

Christoph Waltz plays the cybernetics doctor, Dr Ido, who discovers and "raises" Alita, giving her a new body that has a special significance to him. He's very much a father figure to her, but has his own dark secrets as well, which serve to give us more insight into his motives. Mahershala Ali as Vector is a more cartoonish character that hardly makes use of his full range of skills, but is nonetheless a fun deviation for the renowned actor. Jennifer Connelly has more to do with the story than you may think, coming off initially as a villainess, but later on revealed to have a history that causes her to question that path. The standout villains end up being the cybernetic ones, with Ed Skrein's Zapan being an arrogant and ruthless baddie with that sneering attitude that worked so well in DEADPOOL, while Jackie Earle Haley stars as the fully digital cyborg monstrosity Grewishka, who is tasked with dispatching Alita, but finds that the little "flea" has bite. The cyborg characters play much better than you may expect with some really fun, creative and inventive versions showcased throughout the film, all of which have unique aspects to their enhancements.

The story is pretty straightforward James Cameron, ripe with social and moral questions in both the world we're immersed in and the technology that builds it. With nearly everyone we meet being ground dwellers, living in a run-down dystopian city that aspires to reach a "heavenly" world that floats above them, believed to be a utopia. The only real way to get there, though, is to win at the violent sport of Motorball, which breeds its own form of celebrity. Naturally, Alita is keen to the sport and as her abilities and her affinity for a local boy (Keean Johnson, a sure-to-be heart throb after this for the teenage crowd) grow, she finds herself challenged in more ways than just trying to remember who she is. The world itself, built by WETA Digital, is sprawling, massive and riddled with detail; it's an eyeful at every frame, which more than makes up for some of the cheesier aspects that sneak in from time to time, be it dialogue or characters (although they oddly fit the manga-esque world). Also, keep an eye out for a few guest appearances from some name actors in various roles, including the main big bad, who isn't revealed until the very end.

Aside from believing in and loving the character of Alita, the biggest aspect that surprised me was the action. This is violent, visceral action that hits you hard, one beheading at a time. Make no mistake, this is a hard PG-13, teetering the line to an R, even sneaking in a well-timed F-bomb at a critical point. While there aren't showers of blood spray, there's definitely blood drawn with some characters coming to a surprisingly violent end. It's all big and explosive with plenty of "oh shit" moments throughout, particularly in the motorball sequence, which should make for one hell of a trip in IMAX. For fans of the original manga, there are a number of bone-crushing-cyborg-smashing sequences ripped straight from the comic brought to life here. Junkie XL's score has the pulse-pounding energy of his MAD MAX: FURY ROAD tunes and I found myself eager to hear it again, both in the film and on its own. It's always a bonus when the music matches the action, which it thankfully does in ALITA.

If there's a major issue I have with ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL it's that I wanted more, which isn't necessarily a bad problem to have. It wasn't that there wasn't a lot here (and there's A LOT), but I easily would've stayed in my seat to watch another half hour to see the story taken one step further, as this is absolutely an origin tale that builds to something much bigger and with much left to be explored. While that's actually a really cool aspect to the film, it does leave the cinematic stomach a bit hungry for more with this meal. Still, the film stands tall on its own and I'm hopeful it resonates enough with fans and non-fans alike that will see more follow-ups to come. There's plenty of source material left to explore and with the world set-up so beautifully, it'd be great to revisit this immersive, virtual environment again, but that will ultimately rest on whether or not folks enjoy it as much as I did and give it the box office boost to make it so. If this is our only stop, however, it's something I'll happily revisit for the fun, wild ride that it is.

Source: JoBlo.com



Latest Entertainment News Headlines


Featured Youtube Videos