A team-up between billion-dollar director James Cameron and $7k-feature director Robert Rodriguez never sounded like a sure thing, especially when the project they choose to collaborate on is a live-action adaptation of a 90’s era Manga/Anime series. An unlikely collaboration such as this usually yields either brilliance or disaster, but “Alita: Battle Angel” is neither. Instead, it captures the highs and lows of both these visionary men.
The adapted screenplay, written by Cameron, opens hundreds of years in the future. Earth, ravaged by war, has split into two distinct classes. The rich live in the last of the floating cities, dumping their trash on the rest of the people below. It’s in one of these trash heaps that cybersurgeon Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz) discovers the barely functioning upper torso of a “Total Replacement Cyborg” – a robot that is powered by a human brain. After crafting a new body for her, the amnesiac Alita (Rosa Salazar) soon awakens, wide-eyed and full of wonder. Alita thirsts for knowledge, both of herself and the world she now finds herself in. Dr. Ido assumes a surrogate father role and although he wants to experience as much as possible, is oddly over-protective at times. With Alita’s limited memory, she at first seems naive but soon notices things that Dr. Ido is trying to hide from her. Toss in some YA-Novel romance, bounty-hunter-warriors, an ancient, war, an uber-violent Battle-Bot-Roller-Derby, and some clunky class-warfare allegories and you have a very full two-hour movie.
One of the biggest concerns about Alita ended up being one of the smallest issues. When the first trailer dropped, viewers were tossed head-first into the uncanny valley. Alita’s eyes just looked wrong. After some small tweaks, she looked better in the following trailers, but still…weird. Watching her in the movie, with extended performances instead of multi-second clips is a very different experience. She looks different but not bad. Eyes are the windows to the soul, and the audience is almost immediately captivated by this digital creation. It’s a tad shy of photorealistic, and not as impressive as what we’ve seen in “Planet of the Apes”, but quite compelling none the less. The filmmakers spent a lot of time filling this world and its characters with an immense level of detail, and Rodriguez never shies away from showing it off, be it the tiny pores on her skin, or the intricate metal-work on the cyborg Zapan (Ed Skrein). This film also gives Rodriguez a chance to stretch is action choreography muscles a bit more, something we’ve seen glimpses of from him as far back as the bar fight in “Desperado.” The action scenes in Alita are some of the very best sci-fi-ghting sequences I’ve ever seen and are worth the price of admission alone.
Unfortunately, as impressive as all the CGI and Visuals are, Cameron lets the script once again take a back seat. On a scale that includes “Aquaman”, “Mortal Engines”, and “Glass” it’s not terrible, but it’s distressing that so much attention is paid to every other aspect of the movie except for what the characters are saying. Have none of these writers ever been in love? Do they ever have conversations with other human beings? Why are they so driven to incessantly recycle tired tropes that were never original to begin with?
“Alita” is highly entertaining and nowhere near the disaster it could have easily been. It’s unfortunate that yet another generic script holds it back from achieving a truly epic status. Be sure to watch it on the biggest screen possible, and although the 3D is quite good, it’s not a necessity to enjoy the film.
Alita: Battle Angel