From visionary filmmakers James Cameron (Avatar) and Robert Rodriguez (Sin City), comes Alita: Battle Angel, an epic adventure of hope and empowerment, based upon the Mangagraphic novel series by Yukito Kishiro. When Alita (Rosa Salazar) awakens with no memory of who she is in a future world she does not recognize, she is taken in by Ido (Christoph Waltz), a compassionate cyberphysician who realizes that somewhere in this abandoned cyborg core is the heart and soul of a young woman with an extraordinary past. As Alita learns to navigate her new life and the treacherous streets of Iron City, Ido tries to shield her from her mysterious history while her street-smart new friend Hugo (Keean Johnson) offers instead to help trigger her memories. But it is only when the deadly and corrupt forces that run the city, headed by Vector (Mahershala Ali), come after Ido and Alita that she discovers a clue to her past – she has unique fighting abilities ingrained in her that those in power will stop at nothing to control. If she can stay out of their grasp, she could be the key to saving her friends, her family and the world she’s grown to love.
NB: I saw this movie in 270 degree Screen X. Where appropriate I will mention it in my review.
Alita: Battle Angel was a movie I was very much on the fence about seeing. Not being familiar with the source material I could only go by what I had seen in the trailers. So often these high concept sci-fi movies are a hit-and-miss affair.
I’m happy to report that, on-the-whole, Alita is a hit rather than a miss.
The standout for anyone seeing this movie will undoubtedly be the visuals. From start to finish the movie looks spectacular. The 3D motion capture technology pioneered for producer James Cameron has been put to really good use.
Aside from the controversial “Manga eyes” Alita herself looks good and integrates well with her surroundings. There are occasions where her mouth movements don’t feel completely on point. Similar to CGI creations like Steppenwolf in Justice League her mouth takes on a fluid like texture where muscles move in a slightly inhuman fashion.
It’s a small complaint about an overall excellent construct. Through Rosa Salazar’s motion capture we’re able to feel the emotions of Alita. Early in the film there’s the childish bewilderment at learning about the world, that gives way to her falling in love and then eventually the heartbreak of the films ending.
There’s a full circle emotional journey for the character. Adding in the extra level of motion capture certainly allows the film to capitalise on the actors emotional performance better than if it were a fully CGI creation.
There’s plenty of other CGI creations throughout the story. All of which look weird and wonderful in their own special ways. This is no Guillermo Del Toro movie but the designs are still cool if a bit more mainstream.
The ensemble cast features a lot of familiar faces. Mahershala Ali, Jennifer Connelly and Christoph Waltz have the most screen time. Waltz plays a warm and paternal Dyson Ido. Outside of the fight sequences Ido’s protective nature is one of the driving forces of the movie.
Mahershala Ali does a little scenery chewing as Vector. When possessed by Nova (played by an uncredited Hollywood star) he really goes for it but it’s nice to see him playing a different type of role.
Jennifer Connelly also has some interesting scenes. Her character, Chiren, is perhaps the most undercooked of the movie. She drops in and out of scenes at a moments notice, often with a stern look on her face. Chiren is the kind of character who turns up just when you need her with some token exposition or the skills to resolve a problem.
Characters like Chiren are a consequence of the movies biggest issue, forsaking a potentially excellent story for visual spectacle. Whilst I can’t knock the enjoyment factor of Alita there’s something to be said for the fact it looks a lot better than it plays.
It’s not that the story doesn’t function. It has all the prerequisite components required to succeed but I couldn’t help but feel by the end of the movie that none of them quite managed to fulfil their potential. It’s hard to say what was lacking other than an overall sense of achievement when the movie ended.
Credit where credit is due however the movies ending came as a genuine surprise. Unaware of the source material I expected a happy ending for all. Instead Alita shoots for a sequel by rounding out its first arc leaving plenty of room for more adventures.
There’s a degree of heartbreak to the final act which was a welcome change from the Hollywood norm. The love story between Alita and Hugo becomes the centre of act two and act three but plays out in a way which many will find surprising.
Choosing to kill of Hugo presumably follows the story of the source material. But then again we know Hollywood adaptions don’t always strictly follow the source material, particularly where romance is involved. It certainly served the central character to have most of her emotional connections ripped away from her by the final moments. Should we be lucky enough to get a sequel there’s plenty of character motivation to see her through a revenge movie.
Alita: Battle Angel features stunning visuals and is easily one of the most high concept sci-fi movies in recent years. At times it forgoes a more meaningful story in order to maximise the spectacle but never to the detriment of the films enjoyment.
Directed by Robert Rodriguez, Alita: Battle Angel stars Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Ed Skrein, Jackie Earle Haley, Keean Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Lana Condor and Eliza González.
The movie is in cinemas across the UK now and hits North America on Valentines Day (Feb. 14) 2019.