Alita: Battle Angel (2019)

Alita: Battle Angel doesn’t waste a single penny of its gargantuan $200 million budget. It’s the very definition of a blockbuster. Sporting outlandish, visually scintillating effects that consistently jedi-mind trick your brain into believing this world and these cybernetic creations could be real. The technical innovation and wizardry is well worth the price of admission, if and only if, you can stomach a stodgy YA script that seems to be copied and pasted from the Twilight Saga.

As expected, the filmmaking tandem of Robert Rodriguez (director) and James Cameron (producer) excel at showcasing their latest technological advancements. What they achieve here (along with those supremely talented folk at WETA) with the possibilities of motion capture and immersive visual effects is astounding, and when the film glosses its cyberpunk aesthetic and brutal robotic violence, it soars. But for every one-armed-handstand-flip-through-an-eyeball moment of cool, there’s another 10-15 minutes of lazy exposition and cringe-worthy teenage romance.

Not to fault the star of this vehicle, Rosa Salazar. She brings Alita to life with earnest humanity, a truly adorable smile and enlarged sympathetic eyes. She’s cute, naive and winsome, and seeing her evolve into a sword-wielding manga warrior is all kinds of bad-ass. She’s the type of female hero we are always craving to see. And no, I’m not getting into casting controversies here.

Unfortunately, Cameron has appeared to have learned nothing from the storytelling failures of Avatar and it makes me fearful for the eleventy sequels he’s currently developing. No, I’m not familiar with the original Japanese source material, but I’d wager that if he and Laeta Kalogridis had spent even 5% more time fleshing out and workshopping the shooting script, Alita might have been something beyond its visual splendour.

The film boasts a king’s ransom in acting pedigree with Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali and Jackie Earle Haley, but we’re forced to watch them drown on-screen in a dystopic void of poor dialogue and terrible character choices.  

Rodriguez injects as much energy and style as he can into the scenes and transitions, and for the most part the movie briskly moves through the poor scripting, to deliver to wanting audiences their next dosage of bionic brutality. Seriously though – they may be presented as merely robots – but this is a hyperviolent movie that pushes the boundaries of our ratings system. Be warned parents of younger children.

Once the millionth body part slumps to the ground in grand, stylish fashion, the movie clumsily promises and falters its way to a conclusion that we can’t possibly reach in time, and sets up an expensive sequel we may never see.

If my review reads like a bipolar teenager in need of their medication, then you are correct. Alita: Battle Angel is not my usual cup of tea, but I saw it and I saw the potential. For a film that explores humanity through testing a human’s ability to create believable artificial life; congratulations, I did not experience that uncanny valley feeling.

I just wish that damn script felt like it was written by humans.

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