TL;DR – Filled with excited characters, and interesting action, it is almost a great film, that is until it fails to stick the landing
Score – 3.5 out of 5 stars
Post-Credit Scene – There is no post-credit scene
Alita: Battle Angel is one of those films that has been bubbling in and out of the film scene for almost twenty years now. It would get so close to being made and then another setback, and once it was filmed we would get these little titbits every month or so. With all this, I was wondering what we would actually get with the final product because I had not seen the original Manga it is based on so I was coming in blind. Well now that I have had some time to think through it, I can say that it is a film with some truly beautiful moments, some really intense ‘oh damn’ moments, and also is a movie that it falls into the same trap as many films these days and sacrifices the narrative of this film to set up potential sequels in the future.
So to set the scene, in the far future the Earth is covered in large sky cities until one day called ‘The Fall’ everything came crashing down bar one city called Zalem. With the Earth devastated many flock to the one remaining bastion of civilization creating the great Iron City that sprawls out underneath Zalem. No one from the Iron City can enter Zalem, but they all work for the city, in the farms, factories, or as Hunter-Warriors who are bounty hunters in a world where the police no longer exist. In the centre of Iron City is the junkyard, where the people of Zalem throw out all their junk raining it down on the city below. One day Dr Dyson (Christoph Waltz) was scavenging the junkyard for parts for his cybernetic limbs clinic when he comes across a cyborg core with a still functioning brain. He brings her home and repairs her body when she awakes she has no idea what her name was, or what her past was, but she accepts the name Alita (Rosa Salazar) and begins to learn about the dangerous world around her.
The first thing I do want to talk about, and indeed it might be the first thing you see when you look at a trailer, and that is the visual effects. I had real fears that Alita would very much get stuck in the uncanny valley and stay stuck there for the whole of the film. Thankfully this is not the case due to a number of reasons. This is through both the story and through Rosa Salazar’s acting, which I assumed they mocaped as a basis for the animation. All of these things bring the character to life, so you can’t help but sympathise with her. All of her actions are completely fluid and also feel like they have weight behind them, which is important when they get to the ‘Panzer Kunst’ action scenes. Indeed, and when we get to the actions scenes, they are all really well made with lots of ‘oh damn’ moments. I was watching the film in 3D, and they do make some good use of the technology but it is not necessary to enjoy the film. However, there is a bit of inconsistency with the violence, with some of it being very violent and close up in the frame, and other times it is all happening off camera which creates a bit of dissidence at times.
As well as this, the effects are used to both create characters but also the world of Iron City. There is some really fascinating character design along the whole gamut of augmentation, from replaced limbs all the way to cyborgs. I think you first get a sense of what they can do in the world when Alita gets jumped by three murderous cyborgs. You get hints of spiders, rhinos, and more. With the world, they have gone for a different look than most post-apocalyptic fiction. It is set somewhere in say Latin America or the Southern US, this gives them a different set of textures and building designs than you often see. While a lot of these are practical sets, and I do adore that, there is also a lot of digital extensions which do a good job of bringing this world to life.
I mentioned, one of the highlights of this movie is Rosa Salazar’s acting, and
I can’t stress it enough just how compelling of a character Alita is. Yes, the
whole ‘protagonist has amnesia’ is a plot thread that we have seen over and
over again. However, they really do a great job of investing you in that story,
by investing you in the character. It might get a little Young Adult novel
heavy with the love plot with Hugo (Keean Johnson), but I didn’t mind that
because Alita was the core of it at all times. As well as this, Christoph Waltz’s
performance as the multi-faceted Dr Dyson. The man who works at a clinic by day
to help out the less fortunate, but at night he has a secret less savoury pass
time, and also he has a past he is trying to escape but never can quite let go.
Though I will say, it did feel like Jennifer Connelly and Mahershala Ali were a bit underutilised.
Now, where the film does not work is in its ending, but to talk about that we do need to talk about the ending so there will be [SPOILERS] from this point onwards if you have not seen the film. While there are some really great moments throughout the film, where it all falls down is in its ending that suffers from two competing problems. The first is the issue of adapting a film from a large source, in this case, a Manga run, and then cutting it down for a movie narrative length. This leads to the film rushing at times and languishing at others, and the ending is one of the times you can really feel that rush on. For example, the film goes oh no we killed Hugo, no yay he is alive again, nope dead now really, in the space of about 10 minutes. The second and more impactful problem is a trap that many films fall in these days. Everything has to be a multi-picture series at least and a cinematic universe at best, however, while everyone is copying Marvel they are ignoring one very important lesson that Marvel (mostly) follows, it is a standalone film first, and a member of the cinematic universe second. Here it felt like the film thought it was more important to show off that Edward Norton was the bad guy than it was giving a satisfactory conclusion. This means that the film just kind of peters out, rather than having a clear endpoint. In some regards, it felt like the end of The Fellowship of the Ring, without the clear breaking of the fellowship, and without the certainty of the follow-up film coming in a year (or at all).
the end, do we recommend Alita: Battle
Angel? On the whole, yes, but with some caveats. As much as I enjoyed the
film, it didn’t stick the landing, which is a pity, and that would understandably
be a deal breaker for some. However, I really enjoyed my time with the film up
until that point, and it did make me want to search out the original Manga to
check it out, so it succeeded on that front.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Alita: Battle Angel
Directed by – Robert Rodriguez
Screenplay by – James Cameron & Laeta Kalogridis
Based on – Gunnm by Yukito Kishiro
Music by – Tom Holkenborg
Cinematography by – Bill Pope
Edited by – Stephen E. Rivkin
Production/Distribution Companies – 20th Century Fox, Lightstorm Entertainment, Troublemaker Studios & TSG Entertainment
Starring – Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Ed Skrein, Jackie Earle Haley, Keean Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Eiza González, Lana Condor, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Idara Victor, Marko Zaror, Elle LaMont, Leonard Wu, Jeff Fahey, Rick Yune, Casper Van Dien & Edward Norton
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: 14A; Germany: 12; New Zealand: M; United Kingdom: 12A; United States: PG-13