Director: Robert Rodriguez
Starring: Christoph Waltz, Rosa Salazar
Review Author: Tony
Box office return is usually not something I concern myself with as the quality of a movie should come first in my preference, but I must admit that my initial reaction to the first Alita: Battle Angel trailer was “this will bomb”. This candid response was not because of a necessarily negative reaction to the trailer, although the eyes were uncanny valley turned up to 11, but rather how such a bloated budget was green-lit for such a niche property. Historically, Hollywood getting their claws on an anime or manga property has only brought pain and suffering to the original creators, fans and the cinema-going audience and you can forgive my cynicism if I didn’t even have faith in James Cameron breaking the mould. Even more bewildering was how an anime with such a cult following would draw the audiences required to make any kind of decent return even when Cameron, the man who got it green-lit, was not in the director’s chair.
When it comes to movie adaptations, I’m usually pretty good at my homework, I’ll do a bit of research into the source material and get an idea of the story it’s telling or the setting it belongs to. For Alita I did zilch, nada, nothing. It’s been a hectic year for me between changing jobs and moving out; I’ve still found time for films but it’s mostly been at home through streaming or Blu-Rays so cinema viewings have fallen by the wayside. I’ve been pretty selective about what to see in the cinema and Alita didn’t make the cut. The reason for this babbling is to convey just how little hype or regard I put into seeing this film when I picked it up on Blu-Ray because this greatly contributed to my enjoyment in seeing just how fully fleshed out the world of Alita Battle Angel is.
Set in the year 2563, the world has been devastated by a war 300 years ago known as “The Fall.” One of the remaining great sky cities is Zalem lived in by the rich and powerful and below is the city Scrapyard which scavenges through the scraps of Zalem and it forces people to adapt to survive such as enhancing themselves with robotics. The city of scrapyard feels lived in with a diverse world that thrives in its own way. Times are hard, but the people find ways to survive and have mass entertainment like the destruction derby, motorball. There is no government and the people are governed by robotic tanks called Centurions and order is kept by bounty hunters called Hunter Warriors. The apocalyptic but vibrant look to this world is beautiful and the attention to detail helps bring it alive.
While the world building is top-notch it can’t quite overshadow the narrative shortcomings. There is an incredible amount of plot points crammed into its two-hour runtime from Alita finding out who she is, investigating a serial killer, falling in love, becoming a hunter warrior (such an awesome name), joining a robot destruction derby, and uncovering a grand scheme and an all watching villain. The pacing leaves very little time for characters to develop, for relationships to blossom or any revelations to have any lasting impact. The plot apparently follows the 90s anime very closely, and it’s pretty evident in the episodic fell to the story, every act feels like it has left behind anything significant that came before to move to something grander which is why television and film are very different mediums for storytelling. Luckily the film is gelled together with strong performances from Rosa Salazar and Christoph Waltz, although the same can’t be said for some supporting cast (Ed Skrein and Keean Johnson feel miscast).
One of the biggest concerns with the initial trailers was those big beepers on Alita (As in eyes, you pervert). The CGI eyes looked to be an inspired choice at best and an uncanny valley nightmare at worst. Thankfully, this concern carried little weight as the initial oddity of the eyes wears off very soon and, in fact, an incredibly expressive performance from Salazar shines through. The CGI is top-notch throughout and it really feels like a 90s dystopian anime comes to life. The action scenes are some of the most breathtaking of the year as they carry weight and impact and are expertly caught by a stellar effects team. The motorball sequences are some highlights of truly spectacular cinema this year.
Alita is an overstuffed film in the best sense of the word. It feels like a film crafted with love for the source material and Cameron and Rodriguez left no idea or story point on the chalkboard. Alita is a beautiful mess that introduces audiences to an intricately realised world full of wonder and danger. Criminally the finally of the film ends on such a tease I had flashbacks to the ending of Halo 2, but It leaves me wanting more and hopefully its modest return at the box office can explore this story more.
Rating: 3.25 / 5 Hunter Warriors (I love that phrase)!!!