Film Review Battle Angel: Alita

Synopsis

Alita: Battle Angel opens to a futuristic melting pot of human civilisation that seems to be all that’s left of ground dwelling life. Iron City is home to refugees, misfits and undesirables who we assume have been left behind by humanity’s elite. The upper class has left Earth’s surface to live on a tethered sky city called Zalem, that is completely inaccessible to the citizens of Iron City. 

Alita’s (Rosa Salazar) head is found in a junkyard by cyber doctor, Dyson Ido (Christopher Waltz) who recognises that her human brain is still alive. Cyborg technology is commonplace in Iron City, but while Ido can give Alita back her body, he can’t recover her past. 

Despite being given a fresh start, she cannot help attracting trouble which will ultimately help her remember who she is.

Our review

*Warning: Spoilers ahead*

From the beginning, the movie is very obviously a passion project for big names - James Cameron, Robert Rodriguez, John Landau and Laeta Kalogridis whose combined resume boasts Avatar, Titanic, Sin City and Terminator Genisys. Alita has been in the works since 2000, spearheaded by James Cameron who wanted to create a new Avatar-like sensation based on Yukito Kishiro’s cyber punk manga series.

On the surface, Alita: Battle Angel looks like just another sci-fi movie, but the visual effects show the beginning of a new way to tell stories through film. The character Alita has been lifted straight from the pages of manga and given a live action treatment. Salazar also gives an exceptional performance, considering for the whole movie she lived in a motion capture suit with dots across her body.

Looking past Alita, audiences can see that her surroundings and fellow characters are all real flesh and blood. Christopher Waltz, Jennifer Connolly, Keean Johnson and Mahershala Ali are not CGI or voice actors, they exist physically in the Iron City world. Blending the layers of realism and fabrication is never easy in movies, but Alita: Battle Angel is a brilliant example of how this can be done.

All good sci-fi tries to shine a light on the issues of today’s society and the peril we face if we lose control. Alita: Battle Angel is no different and Cameron uses the movie to tear down the false truth of the American Dream and highlight the faults of capitalism. All of Iron City aspire to reach Zalem, which is considered the ultimate reward. The films villain, Vector, uses the possibility of sending lucky individuals up to the more affluent sky city to live in paradise, but it’s an empty promise he’s unable to fulfil.

This mirrors critiques of capitalism and the American Dream that say it offers riches, happiness and fulfillment to the lower and middle classes, if they only work hard enough. But what is not said is that the game is stacked against them and the promises are empty.   

While many films suffer from a lack of well thought-out plot, Alita: Battle Angel’s plot falls into the trap of being too well thought out. There is so much going on in Alita’s world – from love interests, bounty hunting, crime stopping, evil empire destroying, ancient wars, amnesia and dystopian extreme sports championships – it’s exhausting. This would have been great as a television series where it could build on each plot, but becomes convoluted in a movie format.

Kalogridis and Cameron were ambitious with their plotlines, but when it came to character development there was something missing. By focusing all their energy on producing great stories, they forgot to flesh out their characters, which shows in their nonsensical decision making.

It has to be noted that every minute of this film except for one deserves three stars. Unfortunately, that one minute, in which the writers allowed a street dog to be killed, means the movie will not score more than one star in this review. Killing off animals and children is lazy story writing for a cheap emotional response. 

Final Verdict: 1/5

Director

Robert Rodriguez

Producers

James Cameron
John Landau

Cast

Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Ed Skrein, Jackie Earle Haley and Keean Johnson

Film rating: M

If you liked the movie, try:

The Matrix, Avatar, Altered Carbon, Ready Player One, Blade Runner and Ex Machina

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