Alita: Battle Angel

Alita: Battle Angel Review – Not As Crappy As the Trailer Makes It Look

Alita: Battle Angel

Movie Rating:

3.5

James Cameron is known for creating vast alien worlds and situating fun popcorn movies within them. While Robert Rodriguez directed Cameron’s script for Alita: Battle Angel, which itself is an adaptation of the manga series Gunnm, there’s no mistaking Cameron’s touch on this attempted blockbuster.

Taking place on Earth, Alita is set in year 2563, which is 300 years after the great war, referred to as “The Fall.” This war devastated the planet and left civilization relegated to two main spaces: grimy Iron City, or the massive ship floating about the city called Zalem. The film begins with Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz) scavenging through a junkyard filled with Zalem waste. When he spots the still-living bust of a young female cyborg, he takes it home and fixes it up. Ido specializes in prosthetics, which are in high demand in Iron City. It seems like every other person is either augmented or in need of some medical enhancement just to get by. Survival is hard enough down there, and Ido is trying to help however he can.

After some tinkering, the bust, along with a new body, awakens with no real memory. The cyborg body is graceful and beautifully decorated all over. It’s clear that an extra degree of care and love went into designing this body for the previous wearer. Ido names this now-awake cyborg Alita (Rosa Salazar, through CGI and motion capture). Together, they explore Iron City and try to get her memory back.

This trope of a beautiful amnesiac young woman being reliant upon a father figure and an inevitable love interest (Keean Johnson) to teach her all about civilization, love and life has been done so many times it’s a cliché. For that matter, nothing in Alita is especially original. Alita herself might as well be Leeloo from The Fifth Element. The major sport that rules Iron City is basically Rollerball, and Iron City itself is a mashup of the futuristic dystopias from Blade Runner and The Zero Theorem. Alita seems less keen on paying homage to the hollowed ancestors of science fiction, and more interested in using easily accessible shorthand to cut out a lot of explanation about how society ended up this way, so that we can focus on the good stuff – the battles!

Alita wastes no time in getting to some grand cyborg fight scenes, and these honestly make the film a delight, despite the lame romance and silly personal quests. The cyborg designs are innovative, often gorgeous, and always deadly. Each cyborg Alita fights is not only capable of inflicting great damage on her humanoid body, they’re cocky enough to think that she stands no chance. However, Alita deserves far more credit than they give her, and we, in turn, get to see what each of them is capable of. These numerous fight scenes are shot in such a way that there’s no ambiguity about where characters are, or which ones have which weapons. Too often in other movies, quick-and-dirty skirmishes like this are framed with shaky cameras and edited too quickly to ever get fully invested in the action, but Alita shows all those inferior films how it should be done.

Thankfully, Alita somehow appears to know that the best things going for it are the cyborg designs and the fights. The film suffers when it focuses too heavily on the politics of Iron City or on Alita’s ridiculous crush, but it’s easy enough to let those scenes come and go quickly and just pay attention to the ass-kicking.

7 comments

  1. Deirdre had another headline in mind for this review, but when she told me in email that the movie wasn’t as crappy as the trailer made it look, I knew that had to be our headline. 🙂

  2. Judas Cradle

    James Cameron’s strongest asset is his direction. Scripting has always been his weakest.
    So, a James Cameron script doesn’t sell me. (It has about as much cache as TV shows “produced by Steven Spielberg”).
    Btw- I expect to see your quote pull on the Blu ray “ALITA is not as awful as it looks”!

  3. David W.

    Josh, I think there may have been a cut and paste error with the title in the first paragraph:

    “James Cameron is known for creating vast alien worlds and situating fun popcorn movies within them. While Robert Rodriguez directed Cameron’s script for **Alita: Battle Angel Review**, which itself is an adaptation of the manga series Gunnm, there’s no mistaking Cameron’s touch on this attempted blockbuster.”

    I wasn’t planning on seeing this either theatrically or at home for all the reason’s others have listed before, but your review piques my interest. I may watch it at home now or may be even in the theater if a friend or family member wants to go.

  4. Thulsadoom

    Since Titanic and Avatar, I’ve stopped expecting Cameron movies to be great, but having seen this on 3D Imax the other day… damn! Best big sci-fi action movie I’ve seen in a looong time. In an age where we’re just seeing the same plots recycled again and again with interchangeable super-heroes, I enjoyed the hell out of this. I’m not saying it was perfect, but I was majorly and pleasantly surprised. I could’ve sat there for another couple of hours. I can’t remember the last time I watched a big effects movie and just felt completely lost in it.

    Although I was aware of Battle Angel Alita, I’ve never been a massive Anime fan and never read or watched the original anime, so I had no preconceptions or expectations. Many of the plot themes may have been done before, but you can say that about almost any movie. The real question is whether they were packaged in a new engrossing story with interesting characters, and the answer is a big yes. Rosa Salazar is also brilliant as Alita. The level of emotion she gets through the mo-cap is astonishing, and quite honestly puts most recent blank-expressioned female action stars to shame.

    There’s a hefty dose of Robocop to her story, but in a good way, and it makes her a sympathetic hero that you want to see succeed. So from my perspective, I can’t recommend it enough! So much better than the latest slew of Marvel blockbusters at the very least! 😉

  5. Brian Hoss

    I’m on record as saying this movie would bomb and might even be unwatchable. I caught a screening last week, and was really surprised. I fully align with this review, the action is excellent, and there is a good helping of it. Furthermore, the visual effects are first rate. (It gets to the lack of execution for various characters in Aquaman.) And certainly, the “not as crappy as the trailer” sentiment is right. I might go so far as to say that it’s worth seeking out in Dolby 3D.

  6. Bolo

    ‘Alita’ was a good time at the movies. The plot does jump ahead a few times in ways that could’ve been smoother, but nothing too bad. Alita and Ido were very engaging and likeable. The action was all first rate. I’m glad I saw this, pity we likely won’t get the continuation of the story.

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