Alita: Battle Angel Review
By Cameron Myers
Alita often has the feel of two movies in one: a mixture of teenage romance and an affectedly violent comic-book flick. This is perhaps unsurprising, the film coming as it does from the directorial vision of one Robert Rodriguez – mastermind behind Sin City’s brutal neo-noir and the corny charm of the family-friendly Spy Kids franchise. Yet, despite the precarious balance in tone, Rodriguez combines the best elements of his cinematic oeuvre to create a thoroughly entertaining manga adaptation. Based on Yukito Kishiro’s Japanese cyberpunk series, Alita: Battle Angel tells the story of a cyborg, discovered in a garbage heap with no memories of her past. Taken under the wing of talented cyber-scientist Dr. Ido, she embarks on a journey to find out where she came from and incidentally begins to forge her own path along the way.
Overall, Alita tends to impress most with its entertaining over-the-top action set-pieces and the more character-led moments featuring the film’s titular star. The action is brilliant, able to make the most of its advanced motion capture technology (James Cameron, director of Avatar is a producer). And despite the hyper-mechanised reality of the world Alita is set in, Rodriguez is deft enough to ensure that, for the most part, the action sequences rely more on a sense of fun and character; there’s a particularly badass moment during an ‘underworld’ fight scene that will make you punch the air in glee.
Despite the lingering sense of ‘uncanny valley’, fortunately the motion capture technology is advanced to the point where relative newcomer Rosa Salazar’s performance isn’t inhibited in any way and becomes the cornerstone of the film’s charm. Played with a literal wide-eyed wonder, Alita is captivating and winsome in a way that keeps the audience interested throughout the film’s longer-than-average runtime. Not all characters are nearly as fully rounded-out in the way they ought to be, however. Dr. Ido’s assistant for example features as nothing more than a prop, and Lana Condor’s (To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before) acting talent is wasted on Koyomi, who is all but forgotten by the third act. It might be that this is because more is planned for these characters to be fully fleshed out in future sequels. The undeveloped plot points would also seem to suggest a film produced on the assumption of a mega franchise.
It’s almost expected now that big franchise-building blockbusters leave plot and character developments dangling in the hope that viewers will want to come back for more (see, for example, Solo: A Star Wars Story and that surprise sequel set-up). But it doesn’t always work, as we know (again, see Solo: A Star Wars Story). Alita would have benefitted from a less opaque, more streamlined plot. For all the crowd-pulling benefits of world- and franchise-building, there are still people who just want to watch a great film – without waiting a year, or many, for a satisfying resolution. As charming a film as Alita is, Rodriguez, Cameron and others would do well to bear that in mind.