Alita: Battle Angel
Alita: Battle Angel features dazzling 3D and impressive world building that almost makes up for the weak "franchise starting" ending. Robert Rodriguez directs with distinct visual style, while James Cameron's producers credit ensures that this is a must-see movie on the largest IMAX screen possible.
Robert Rodriguez‘s Alita: Battle Angel is an impressive big-budget 3D science fiction film that gets by because of its well-shot action sequences and good-natured characters. It does suffer from pre-franchise fatigue, as the ending all but sets up for a second part, despite not successfully finishing its own story. But that doesn’t rob Alita from being an under-dog success, plagued with release date delays and a lack of competent marketing. Alita: Battle Angel is a fun film that feels familiar, yet empowering as it tackles social class issues through dazzling visuals.
The film takes place in the 2500s, after the fall of many empires in the sky, due to an alien invasion. There is still one city that floats above the rest and the is where the very wealthy and fortunate live. The rest of us live down below, in a futuristic scrapyard that’s full of humans and robots alike.
The only way to “go up” is to do the dirty work of Vector (Mahershala Ali), which may involve stripping robots for parts or racing in a high-speed roller derby.
Dr. Ido (Christoph Waltz) is a surgeon that helps repair robotic limbs with no real worry about charging his patients, because he believes in rehabilitation and kindness.
He stumbles upon a scrap robot in the rubble from the skies and puts her back together and names her Alita (Rosa Salazar). But Alita quickly realizes that she isn’t just some random robot and instead a relic from the past, from a warrior breed of bad asses that knows a thing or two about fighting.
The bulk of Alita: Battle Angel is Alita discovering her truth self while simultaneously learning about compassion and friendship. It’s oddly fast-paced for a “rise” or origins tale, which is wise as most of the material feels familiar.
Director Robert Rodriguez‘s world-building skills are on full display in Alita. He presents a lived-in dystopian future that looks like it cost 500 million bucks to fully realize. And he wastes not a dollar capturing the vivid detail of the world and more importantly, the action sequences that intertwine within the world.
Alita: Battle Angel is an IMAX 3D movie that isn’t quite an event-level film if it were directed by its own producer, James Cameron, but it’s still an impressive feat that is a technical achievement.
The robot design is imaginative and different, mashing up all different types of metal to make a variation of a person. I know Alita is based on source material, but bringing it to life must have not been an easy task.
Rosa Salazar, Mahershala Ali and Christoph Waltz give inspiring, but far from career-best performances. Salazar balances the CGI approach of her character with soft and warm intentions that never undercut the bad ass brooding inside her. Her ability to give a completely computer-rendered character such emotion and range is the selling point of the entire cast.
Ali fits as the shallow villain that’s actually mostly controlled by someone else. He doesn’t exactly embody the role with a performance worth praising, but he services the film to his best ability, based on the material provided for him.
Christoph Waltz gives another reliable, if not that important performance that is mostly about unlocking the secrets of Alita and not so much his own past, which is full of inner-turmoil and conflict. I always love seeing Waltz on-screen, because no matter what, he always gives you something different with each new role.
The biggest downfall of Alita: Battle Angel is its weak ending that balances the entire third act on a cliffhanger ending that never really wraps up anything presented. Alita’s conflict is still open, while the film just shrugs off its bigger problems for a storyline that was mostly utilized to show off its use of 3D.
I spent a majority of the film cheering and applauding the spectacle on display, yet the last five minutes had me roll my eyes and hope that they’ve already filmed a second movie that properly concludes the story. Nothing is worse than watching an incomplete film, only to later find out that it didn’t make enough money to continue its journey.
Alita: Battle Angel is very much a Part 1 movie that lacks a true conclusion. Everything up until that point is surprisingly good, full of exciting action and futuristic set pieces that are backed by mostly likable and engaging characters. Unfortunately, the film falls flat on its face during the last stretch and I sure hope it picks itself up with the next one — if there even is one.