Alita: Battle Angel is the new science-fiction film based on the manga by the same name which was developed by James Cameron and directed by Robert Rodriguez and stars Rosa Salazar, Christolph Waltz, Jennifer Connolly and Mahershala Ali.
Robert Rodriguez has been a very on and off director. He’s done some great stuff and he’s made some questionable movies. So going in, I wasn’t sure which Robert Rodriguez I was going to get. Unfortunately, I was very let down by this film.
The story takes place in the far away future. After finding cyborg parts in a junkyard, scientist Dr. Dyson constructs Alita, a cyborg with a conscience, but who doesn’t have any memories of her past life, and who soon becomes a deadly weapon of mass destruction that will destroy anything that comes in her way.
Hollywood has had a tough time adapting Manga’s to the screen. Just last year alone we got the abysmal Death Note and Ghost in the Shell remake and they haven’t yet cracked the code to making a good and successful one. Alita, unfortunately, falls in the category of bad Manga adaptations.
First the pros. The CGI is really good. Everything looks great and the world feels real and lived in. The story takes place far away in the future and James Cameron and Robert Rodriguez have really done well directing this version of the future from the Manga. The robots and cyborgs all look exceptionally real. I was afraid that Alita would look fake, judging by the trailers, with her silly big eyes and cyborg body, but she doesn’t. She looks great especially in the action scenes and there is a lot of action in this film. It’s well done and you can see everything’s that going on, which is refreshing.
I also dug the character of Alita. She had to learn to live in this new harsh reality and environment. Rosa Salazar was perfectly cast in the role and she did really well in the emotional scenes as well as the physical ones. She was probably the strongest part of this film and her relationship with Christoph Waltz was the emotional anchor of this entire movie. She also develops a touching relationship with Hugo, played by Heean Johnson. The two of them formed a good relationship and while it could have been more developed, I bought into it.
Now as for the cons: I was bored throughout the majority of this film. While it has action set pieces and quite a lot of them, the story in between never quite hooked me and we’ve seen it all before. I’m sure that the manga does a better job at developing the world and the characters and giving us better emotion. The story is paper-thin and when it’s action piece after action piece and CGI heavy over the story and the characters that’s when movies lose me. I need more meat in the storytelling for something that I need to sit through for more than two hours. That’s right, this film is 2h20 minutes and I could feel the runtime during the first thirty minutes. I kept checking my watch and to me, that’s a bad sign that your film isn’t doing something right.
The supporting actors are all incredibly talented people. But here, they all barely have nothing to do. The script gives them nothing to work with and it really shows. Mahershala Ali was amazing in this year’s Green Book and in True Detective season 3 but here anybody could have played him. He’s got the role of the villain and there’s nothing much for him to do or anything interesting to say.
Jennifer Connelly has a better storyline and a better character arc, but then again to an actress to her caliber, she deserved better. Christoph Waltz gives probably the best performance in this film but again we know he can do better, he was the Jew Hunter for crying out loud! It feels like most of the actors are disconnected to the overall story and I can’t blame them, when they are surrounded by a CGI heavy environment there’s only so much you can do.
Overall, Alita: Battle Angel has great action set pieces, terrific CGI, and a great main character, but falls flat in terms of story and emotion and doesn’t have any kind of big payoff enough to warrant a sequel.