Alita: Battle Angel – Second Take (2019)

I’ll admit, I was tentative entering the screening for Alita: Battle Angel for a number of reasons. The film is directed by Robert Rodriguez, who in this reviewer’s opinion hasn’t had the best track record since the first Sin City. Additionally, the screening I attended was in 3D. I hadn’t been to a 3D screening of anything in years. I still own a 3D television and will occasionally watch Tron Legacy or Hugo in the much maligned format. I don’t necessarily have anything against it, but I had forgotten what good 3D looked like on a multiplex screen.

Alita reminded me.

The film, set in the year 2563, centres around the story of Alita (Rosa Salazar), a cyborg human found in a scrapyard and revived with no memory of her past self. Resurrected by fatherly Dr Dyson Ito (Christoph Waltz), Alita pursues the memories of her past life, dragging her into the underbelly of Iron City, fraught with danger and despair.

Alita is pure spectacle. Much like Avatar and Pacific Rim before it, the best parts of Alita are during scenes of intense action with Junkie XL’s cookie-cutter but adequate score behind it. The motorball sequences (featuring the cyberpunk sporting love child of Rollerball and Speed Racer) are especially entertaining. The action scenes are fast paced and satisfying, and the 3D doesn’t get in the way and muddle the fast choreography. Blockbuster tentpole spectacle is what James Cameron is best at, and his production fingerprint is keenly felt throughout, mixed with the surprisingly grungy ultraviolence that Rodriguez’s sensibilities bring to the table.

Much was said before Alita’s release about the main character’s large almond shaped CGI anime eyes, and the uncanny valley effect. Truthfully? These eyes are a constant reminder that Alita is not quite human. This artistic decision was integral to my experience of the movie. The 3D adds to the legitimacy of the world and masks the uncanny valley effect to the point where you can almost be tricked into thinking this onscreen world is real. Huge props should be given to WETA for their amazing work on motion capture – Alita represents a technical achievement that should not be overlooked. These effects enhance a slightly clumsy coming of age tale, that I felt did not let the film down, largely in part to Salazar’s impressive motion capture performance. This is a story about someone finding their place in the world, and Alita’s innocence is an enjoyable counterpoint to the skulduggery surrounding her. Much will be said about the clumsiness of the dialogue, but frankly with the calibre of acting talent being showcased here, it’s barely an issue. There are a slew of fun cameos here and spotting them all is a joy unto itself.

If I had to give the film criticism (and I do so slightly begrudgingly) it would be the underutilization of Jennifer Connelly. Connelly does what she can in her role as Dr. Chiren, but the story doesn’t seem to accommodate her character very much, and if a sequel were to appear, I would very much want to see her dive into a meatier role the next time around in this world.

Alita is anime as hell. I say this with love. I left the cinema hungry for more. Though I am not familiar with the source material, I can appreciate that clearly both Cameron and Rodriguez care for the originals. The biggest tragedy of this film is the fact that it may not receive the big budget sequel it teases (and needs) at its conclusion, as it may be one of many casualties of the Disney-Fox merger. Only time will tell.

What I can say is this – if a fun female-led action spectacle is your significant other’s jam, then date night is 100% sorted.

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