Alita: Battle Angel
When I reviewed Avatar, I mentioned it was a lot like Battle for Terra and Dances with Wolves, but it was so beautiful to look at, I didn’t really care. Well, James Cameron and the filmmakers behind Avatar and Sin City now give us this, which borrows from a lot. At times, I thought of Blade Runner, RoboCop, The Fifth Element, Pinocchio, Total Recall, Ghost in the Shell, Silent Running, Roller Ball, Dragon Ball Z, Terminator 2, Frankenstein, and a few other movies. But it was also beautiful to look at, the set pieces were dazzling, and the cast was so good — most of the time I didn’t mind.
This was written and produced by Cameron. The writing is the weak part of the movie. It was directed by Robert Rodriguez (Sin City, From Dusk to Dawn, Spy Kids, Machete).
It’s a dystopian future, where the poor people live on Earth and the fat cats live in a suspended city in the sky above them. When this happened in Elysium, Matt Damon wanted to get up there for the great medical care. In this movie, we’re not really sure why Hugo (Keean Johnson) wants to get up there. The narrative doesn’t really tell us enough about the utopian city, or about how people are living on Earth. They seem to be scraping and hustling to get by, but it doesn’t feel as much like a ghetto as some stories like this.
Christoph Waltz, plays against type as Dyson Ido, a doctor that specializes in fixing the appendages of cybernetic folks. He seems to specialize in the ones that play a vicious version of roller derby.
The movie opens with him searching a junkyard for parts, and discovering a cyborg woman who is still alive. Well, half of her is. So he fixes her up and, unlike Oscar Isaac in Ex Machina, he becomes a father figure to her. He names her Alita. She has no memory of who she was. Turns out, she was a trained warrior. That comes in handy when some of the neighborhood kids get rough with her during a game of rollerball. She slowly starts remembering a few things from her previous life, but she doesn’t seem all that perplexed by not remembering who she really is. That kind of makes the viewer not care as much, either.
It’s sort of understandable, though. She’s a teenage girl, and she’s dealing with a human crush on Hugo. She also suspects her human daddy — Dyson Ido — might have some extra-curricular activities going on at night.
Alita is played by Rosa Salazar, and her voice work is fine. She’s got giant, anime-type eyes and is attractive. This is all based on a Japanese manga series, and part of the problem with this story from the ‘90s is…it sort of has that feel. And at this point, we’ve seen all these types of stories done before.
If the dialogue weren’t so clunky and bad, this would’ve been an awesome movie. As is the case with other Cameron films (Avatar and Titanic), it feels like it’s written for 13-year-olds.
Ido’s ex-wife is played by Jennifer Connelly. She works with the rollerballers, and is also the right-hand man (woman) of Vector (Mahershala Ali of Green Book). His role is interesting, and it’s a blast seeing his eyes turn blue as he gets information from Nova, the mysterious, dangerous overlord from the city above.
It’s a shame the story is so goofy, because the action scenes are incredible and the graphics are beautiful. Rumor has it they spent $200 million making this film, so they should be. It’s just a shame that a few times in the movie, I was wondering if the filmmakers were more interested in making this the first movie of a trilogy (or a franchise), than writing a great movie. I suppose that’s how filmmaking works these days.
There were too many things I was left wondering about — The nurse working with Ido and the floating city. Instead, we just get occasional expository dialogue thrown at us to explain some things.
Yet the visuals were so incredible, I’m still recommending it. Begrudgingly.
3 ½ stars out of 5.