“ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL” – A Wild, Ambitious Sci-Fi Adventure: “Treads an awkward line between gritty and absurd”

Part of Fox’s final project team before the merger with Disney, Alita: Battle Angel surprise the box office. Although not critically acclaime by the critics. The film base on Japanese comics still caused a box office effect thanks to James Cameron as a producer.

In fact, the revenue of more than $ 400 million compared to the production budget of about $ 170 million. That is enough for Cameron to be able to make part two. However, the future for Alita will be decided by Disney in the near future.

James Cameron has been trying to get cyberpunk manga Battle Angel Alita onto the big screen for the best part of two decades. Being sidetracke by the Avatar industry, he pass the reins on to Robert Rodriguez. While still seemingly retaining a very hands-on producer role. It certainly feels more in Cameron’s wheelhouse than Rodriguez’s: epic, post-apocalyptic sci-fi, told using ambitious, boundary-straining VFX. But like the titular character, the film is a visually impressive technical marvel that lacks substance under its glossy shell.

Alita: Battle Angel is a lot.

The movie whirls, dervish like, from plotline to plotline, theme to theme and metaphor to metaphor, brushing the surface of, but never really settling on, anything. That’s not a bad thing – it’s a kinetic blast and isn’t ever not interesting. But it takes a minute to get use to its whiplash tone and herky-jerky plotting.

It’s a dazzling action movie/teenage romance about parents and children and grief and nature vs nurture and how extreme poverty and the promise of economic relief can corrupt the soul and the healing power of love. It also touches on race relations and how sports are a distraction from poverty and degradation. That are use as an empty promise for social and economic mobility. Because it’s also a sports movie. And it’s all happening in a gorgeous futuristic city fill with exotic costumes, architecture, and vehicles.

Alita (Rosa Salazar), as she’ll come to be named

This is discovered by cyborg doctor Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz) when he’s scavenging Iron City’s scrapheap for spare parts. He takes her intact cyborg core (with a still-functioning, albeit amnesiac brain) and gives it a body. Like a dystopian Geppetto, he’s delight to see his creation blink to life, and at first you can somewhat relate: There’s no denying that Alita represents a remarkable piece of digital rendering, with alien-proportioned eyes and an ornate exoskeleton.

But even so, Alita still doesn’t entirely evade the uncanny valley effect, with some of her facial nuances not ringing true. This wouldn’t be as much of a problem for a supporting character. But is a more troublesome proposition for a protagonist with a movie resting on her emotional arc. To Salazar’s credit there’s something likeable and determined about Alita, but the CGI puts an emotional forcefield around her.

Emerging into Iron City with wide-eyed (even by her own standards) enthusiasm

Alita meets and falls for Hugo (Keean Johnson), a local boy looking to escape the earthly doldrums for a place in Zalem, the floating utopian city that hovers above. Also on the periphery is Vector (Mahershala Ali), who trades cyborg players for a brutal sport call Motorball. Which is like a cross between speedway racing and Robot Wars. On rollerskates. Plus, there’s danger lurking on almost every dark corner in the form of Hunter Warriors, man-machine hybrids chasing bounties for credits.

There’s no doubting the tactile quality of the environment. Sets and CGI combine harmoniously, and the mechanically augmented humans are similarly seamless. The problem is Alita: Battle Angel doesn’t nail the storytelling and character elements required to get you actually invested in this dusty world.

The players never feel much more than ciphers, with the talented cast often saddled with a clunky dialogue.

Nothing’s ever hint at when there’s on-the-nose expository dialogue to be delivered instead. “It’s a harsh world,” Hugo tells Alita, as Zalem literally dumps its garbage on Iron City. She lacks memories, not common sense. Given the lead character’s optical affluence. Cameron and co-writer Laeta Kalogridis could’ve trust their audience to use their peepers a bit more.

Alita belongs in the pantheon of great visual spectacle, gonzo sci-fi cult movies with The Fifth Element, Dark City and Speed Racer. If that sounds like a recommendation, then, by all means, see it. If it doesn’t, well, you do you I suppose.

The movie begins, as many movies do, with a man finding the head of a girl in a city-sized landfill. The man is Dr. Dyson Ado (Christolph Waltz), a medic living in Earth’s ruined “Iron City” in the year 2563. Society bifurcate centuries ago with the rich moving to fabulous cities floating miles above the planet’s surface and the blight and poverty that remains grounded. Iron City exists to manufacture goods for the floating city of Zalem and as a depository for Zalem’s refuse.

Ado and his wife Chirin (Jennifer Connelly) were both expelled from Zalem for murky reasons having something to do with their handicapped daughter.

When she died, their marriage disintegrated and when Ado finds the intact cybernetic head among the garbage. He takes it home and installs it in the body he developed for his doomed daughter. When the girl (Rosa Salazar) wakes up in her new body, she finds that she can’t remember who she is or where she came from. She can’t even remember her name, so Ado calls her Alita, the name of his lost child. And that’s just the first ten minutes.

Getting into the mechanics of the plot would be dull and does a disservice to what Alita is really about. But it’s also impossible to express just how dense the movie is without spending a little time unpacking the basics, so bear with me. Alita meets a cute boy named Hugo (Keean Johnson) and is instantly smitten. (It’s weird if you think about it, because she’s either a day old or, if you go by when Ado theorizes she was built, over three hundred years.) Either way, a relationship with a teenager seems like a bad idea. Also, she’s a robot and he’s a person. But whatever, nobody’s got time to really consider the implications – there’s too much to see and do.

ABA_143_TRY_1110_v0092_rec709.00000073 – Rosa Salazar stars as Alita in Twentieth Century Fox’s ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL. Photo Credit: Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox.

INFO:

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language)
Genre: Action & Adventure, Romance
Directed By: Robert Rodriguez
Stars: Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly
Written By: James Cameron, Laeta Kalogridis, Robert Rodriguez
In Theaters: Feb 14, 2019 Wide
On Disc/Streaming: Jul 9, 2019
Runtime: 125 minutes
Studio: 20th Century Fox

Peter Rainer
It’s sort of overlong and overstuffed, but Rosa Salazar is quite good.

Sam Adams
It’s goofy as hell and borderline inexcusable at times, but it’s also kind of glorious.

Kate Rodger
I enjoyed this far more than I predicted and it’s most certainly a big screen experience.

James Luxford
A franchise starter that looks nice but lacks humanity

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