ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL ˝
PG-13, 122 mins.
2019, PG-13, 122 mins.
Rosa Salazar as Alita / Christoph Waltz as Dr. Dyson Ido / Ed Skrein as Zapan / Mahershala Ali as Vector / Jennifer Connelly as Chiren / Keean Johnson as Hugo / Michelle Rodriguez as Gelda / Lana Condor as Koyomi / Jackie Earle Haley as Grewishka / Eiza González as Nyssiana / Jorge Lendeborg Jr. as Tanji / Marko Zaror as Ajakutty / Casper Van Dien as Amok
Directed by Robert Rodriguez / Written by James Cameron and Laeta Kalogridis
he began his career with remarkable modesty back in the mid-90s making an
introductory feature film that cost a measly $7000, it's a staggering
experience to witness Robert Rodriguez play within the multi-million
dollar budgeted sandbox that is ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL, the new futuristic
sci-fi action film that has been a long gestating dream of writer/producer
James Cameron for decades. Based
on the beloved manga series GUNNM by Yukito Kishiro, Cameron has attempted
for years to make a large scale blockbuster that would do the comic book
justice, but unfortunately got sidetracked with other projects, like a
little know property called AVATAR (that,
and the VFX technology of years past probably couldn't have done Kishiro's
series ample justice).
being announced in 2003, ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL has finally seen big screen
treatment (with Cameron delegating directorial duties to Rodriguez), and
if you excuse some meandering scripting and an under cranked villain, the
resulting film is worth the wait as an absolutely stunning and jaw
dropping visual and technological triumph. There's rarely a moment on screen here that doesn't contain
some digital fakery, but one of ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL's successes is that it
places respectful focus beyond its cutting edge and pioneering visual
effects to develop the titular character into a winning hero. Even though she's completely the product of CGI, Alita
emerges as such an engaging personality worthy of our rooting interest in
her, so much so that you start to forget early on in the narrative that
she's a glossy and utterly convincing piece of movie magic.
Very few movies have so audaciously blurred the Uncanny Valley line
as well as this one, which makes what Rodriguez and Cameron have achieved
here all the more special.
obligatory title cards and panning vistas, ALITA relays a world of 2563
that was once devastated by "The Fall" or "Great War"
that left the Earth a nearly inhospitable post-apocalyptic wasteland.
In the junkyard metropolis of Iron City a cyborg scientist, Dr.
Dyson Ido (a refreshingly reigned in Christoph Waltz), scavenges through
an unfathomably large pile of rubble and discovers the remains of a
cybernetic warrior, albeit in multiple pieces.
Her head, thankfully, is intact, which houses a healthy and still
functioning human brain. He
brings all of these pieces back to his lab and begins the meticulous
process of re-building her body and reactivating her.
He names her Alita (played via motion capture by THE
MAZE RUNNER trilogy's Rosa Salazar), but when she awakens she has
virtually no memories of her past and spends her first few days trying to
acclimate to her new Frankensteined body and the larger city around her.
by one of Ido's associates, Hugo (Keean Johnson), who takes it upon
himself to show her around and include her in his friend circle's daily
activities. Not so enthused
about Alita's rebirth is Ido's ex-wife, Chiren (an icy cold Jennifer
Connelly), who's miffed that her husband used the mechanical body of their
deceased child to make Alita live again.
Alita, with the enthusiasm of a wide eyed child, has a hard time
staying put in her "father's" lab, especially seeing as she
wants to take in everything the outside world has to offer.
One fateful night she
follows Ido when he leaves home, only to discover a darker aspect of his
occupational life, during which time her subconsciously buried programming
as a deadly soldier with limitless dexterity and power emerges, much to
her and Ido's astonishment. Ido
and Alita try to keep her abilities a tightly guarded secret, but she
eventually finds herself caught in the nefarious crosshairs of Vector
(recent Oscar winner Mahershala Ali), a criminal mastermind and business
CEO that oversees and runs a vicious gladiatorial sport called "Motorball"
with an iron fist. He's in cahoots with the omnipotent ruler of the wealthy and
opulent sky city that floats above the trash city on the ground, and both
of them conspire to eradicate what they see as a newfound threat in Alita.
She, rather predictably, has other ideas.
building, art direction, and production design on confident display in
ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL is pretty extraordinary, with both Cameron and
Rodriguez no strangers to pushing filmmaking boundaries to tell
propulsive, high energy stories (this is also not Rodriguez's first trip
down adapting comic books to the screen, having previously made one of the
most stylishly faithful ever in 2005's SIN CITY).
ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL quickly and convincingly draws you into its
futuristic world of decay and rebirth, but great attention is also paid to
filling the frame with the level of minute detail that makes all great out
of body escapist films feel truly immersive.
Featuring epically scaled cinematography by Bill Pope and much of
the VFX team from Cameron's AVATAR, Rodriguez presents a world of tomorrow
that's bleak, yet colorful and inordinately advanced.
The film also displays great sinister creativity in envisioning,
for example, the "Hunter Warriors" that are hot on Alita's
trail, which are 95% robotic and 5% human, but the effects work here is so
seamless and credible that they all come off as frighteningly tangible
WARS before it, ALITA: BATTLE ANGLE feels like an amalgam of the
old with the new in terms of drawing visual and thematic inspiration from
past films and other sci-fi/fantasy sources and fusing them with its own
cutting edge aesthetic. The
notion of a downtrodden junk city living lowly underneath the rich and
powerful city dwellers of the floating oasis above has echoes of
METROPOLIS and the recent ELYSIUM,
whereas the multi-ethnic hodgepodge of cultures of the neon-hued junk
cityscapes has more than a fleeting resemblance to THE FIFTH ELEMENT and BLADE
RUNNER. The Motorball
sport itself (which is presented in some of the film's many
bombastic and sensationally scaled action sequences) reminded me of
ROLLERBALL as well. That's
not to say that ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL is woefully derivative, though, but
rather visually and thematically echoes past sources in telling its own
narrative with unique spins on typical genre material.
All of the
bravura eye candy in the world is all for naught if a film fails on a
story and character level, and one of the finest things that ALITA: BATTLE
ANGEL nails is having a sense of intimacy with its personas while
showcasing their plight in endlessly awe inspiring visuals.
Rodriguez has made a large scale sci-fi blockbuster that also feels
small at the same time; he imbues the story with a heart while exploring
its mostly non-human lead character.
And Alita is a fascinating creation, with her diminutive and
unassuming adolescent frame and anime inspired eyes; it's initially hard
to fathom that there's a kick ass and extremely dangerous programmed
assassin lurking beneath this meager facade. Plus, there's a wounded
melancholy to her as well, seeing as she's hundreds of years old and was
essentially the last of her kind that was unceremoniously dumped with
other garbage to lay dormant forever.
Teenagers have it rough, but few are left to waste in a junk heap
The real star of
ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL is not its effects and incredible action set pieces,
but rather the stellar motion captured performance by Salazar, who has the
very difficult and thankless task of making the synthetic looking heroine
look, feel, and sound, well, human. Yes,
Alita herself is arguably one of the most nuanced and realistic humanoid
computer generated characters ever to grace a movie, but the core to this
character's strength is in how Salazar creates an appealingly layered and
memorable character that's mostly augmented by effects.
She has to evoke a young woman of emotional frailties and
uncertainties while also showing Alita as headstrong, confident, and, when
she needs to be, lethal when combating the evils of the world she so
desperately wants to inhabit. I
thoroughly applaud the visual effects artisans that have pushed photo
realism to the next level with Alita, but she's a character that stays
with audiences throughout the story because Salazar taps into her
humanity. Yes, she's a
doll-like machine that could pull your arms out with one aggressive yank,
but she's also a character of relatable emotional frailties.
Cameron hit a few creative road blocks along the way and stumble from time
to time, especially when it comes to expositional particulars.
The source material for ALITA is as jam-packed as it comes with
mythology, and sometimes the resulting film feels hastily jam packed in
trying to establish this massive manga universe.
The central and budding love story between Alita and the streetwise
and potentially untrustworthy Hugo hits many perfunctory beats (granted,
there's one touching, yet somewhat macabre scene when Alita literally
takes her iron heart out of her mechanical chest cavity to offer it to the
young man to show her devotion). I
also wished that Mahershala Ali's character was a bit more fleshed out as
a worthy screen villain, and considering the enormity of the actor's
immense talents, I feel that his underwritten baddie here never fully
harnesses his skill set as a quietly powerful actor.
The villain ties into the film's semi-cliffhanger ending, which
provides less resolution than what I would have liked and opts for setting
up a potentially larger threat in another ALITA adventure that may or may
Yet, despite these nitpicky issues, I remain wholeheartedly blown away by ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL, and the effective dynamic duo pairing of Rodriguez and Cameron have lovingly and painstakingly crafted a masterful triumph of sights and sounds that pays great respect to the literary source material without feeling too slavish to it. This is a sci-fi epic that feels rich and lived in, and it's an enthralling world that's easy to get lost in (you feel transported to this strange and beguiling future instead of just feeling like you're watching a VFX highlight reel). And unlike oh-so-many visual effects heavy sci-fi and action pictures that dominate the multiplexes these days, ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL delivers on requisite levels of exhilarating action and spectacle while also gracing its story with an empathetic hero at its core that's given atypical depth. Alita may be a manufactured being cobbled together from spare parts, but there's nothing artificial about her soul.