Alita: Battle Angel

alita_battle_angel_ver2STARS3.5Alita: Battle Angel is an immersive sci-fi fantasy that plunges the viewer into an imaginary world.  I really enjoyed this production, but no amount of complicated exposition can disguise the fact that it’s essentially a cyberpunk update of 1975’s Rollerball.  It certainly doesn’t start out that way.  It’s the future (naturally) – 2563 to be exact and a cyberphysician (Christoph Waltz) who repairs people with android parts discovers the discarded remains of a female robot in a junkyard.  He takes the head, which houses a still active brain, back to his laboratory and rebuilds her.  He names her Alita, after his deceased daughter.  She is of youthful age and this only cements the fatherly attachment he forms to her well being.

Alita: Battle Angel is based on Yukito Kishiro’s manga series Gunnm. The titular cyborg is portrayed by Rosa Salazar.  The actress is in her thirties but she is made to look like a teenager here.  Her appearance is actually a mix of CGI and human performance.  With her somewhat vacant uncharacteristically wide eyes, she resembles a Margaret Keane painting.  She’s got a spark to her personality though.  Her burgeoning attraction to Hugo (Keean Johnson) is more captivating than what you’d expect out of the obligatory love interest role he fulfills.   Hugo also functions as her introduction to this gladiator-style game called Motorball which is a mishmash of football, basketball, and roller derby.  Turns out Alita has quite the talent for the game.

This is fundamentally a martial arts/sci-fi B-movie but it’s given vibrant life with an A-list cast.  Christoph Waltz is the fatherly Geppetto, er uh I mean Dr. Dyson Ido, a cybernetics mastermind.  The seemingly ageless Jennifer Connelly is his ex-wife Chiren, who now works for a nefarious businessman named Vector played by Mahershala Ali.  Fashion-wise he makes a very strong case for a Blade reboot.  Vector hires malevolent cyborgs for the Motorball matches in an attempt to kill Alita for reasons I didn’t completely understand.  His identity is somewhat ill-defined.  He’s definitely a villain and that’s apparently what they do in a dystopian society.  CGI is liberally used to re-imagine scenery and in many cases, the actors as well.  Many figures in the movie are a mix of both organic and fabricated elements.  Ed Skrein, Jackie Earle Haley, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Jeff Fahey, Edward Norton, Michelle Rodriguez, and Jai Courtney all appear.  Some more recognizably human than others.

The screenplay by James Cameron (Avatar) and Laeta Kalogridis (Shutter Island) is fairly standard issue.  When good people do bad things – that’s the level of innovation.  A few characters have this moment.  At times, the narrative morphs in needlessly convoluted ways that are uninteresting.  The crux of the plot is about playing a futuristic sport.  The lively action consistently returns to Motorball time and again, even ending at the arena.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  There’s artistic value in simplicity.  Alita manages to recall both Frankenstein and Pinocchio by way of creating life from a once lifeless body.  This is a story for children.  Director Robert Rodriguez was responsible for Spy Kids and this should charm the same audience.  However, the writers still felt the need to throw in one, and only one, prominent use of the F-word.  The visuals are fun as you’d expect when James Cameron is the producer.  The classic battle of good vs. evil is presented under a pretty veneer of special effects and charismatic actors.   There’s a pure joy here and with a little judicious editing, this could’ve been quite spectacular.  As it stands, it’s fitfully entertaining.

02-14-19

12 Responses to “Alita: Battle Angel”

  1. I look forward to seeing Alita today or tomorrow.

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      • I have not checked the site here for a bit so this is delayed. I enjoyed the film. Usually I brace myself for a tutorial when encountering a futuristic setting, but the movie soon acclimatizes the viewer. Christoph Waltz is an unusual choice to be our bridge from normalcy and I was waiting for something “off” to be revealed but he is excellent. I’m shocked that there is any negative press about this movie and that there is such a push fro Captain Marvel. I thought Alita was endearing despite it being as much of a hybrid as she is, a little Rollerball, et cetera. I hope they are able to continue it. Cameron and Rodriguez know what they are doing.

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      • Hey that’s right. Christoph Waltz often plays somewhat unbalanced characters and here he’s fairly normal. Looking forward to the sequel.

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  2. The story is not exactly original, but the spectacle of it all really made it a fun time at the cinema. One of the better Rodriguez movies where you definitely notice that Cameron also had a hand in creating this.

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  3. Ok, this is endorsement enough for me to give the movie a shot. James Cameron lost me with Avatar, and I can’t say I am a fan of the wide eyes (I am glad you mentioned Margaret Keane — I couldn’t remember for the life of me what the name of that artist was who did those Big Eyes paintings but that is totally it) but fitfully entertaining is kind of what I am in the mood for right now. I got a bit of that with last night’s viewing of Velvet Buzzsaw (Netflix). A patently absurd premise, but man I had fun with it.

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  4. This was pretty good. I wasn’t expecting much, but got so much more. Lots of great visuals. 3 1/2 stars

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  5. smilingldsgirl Says:

    I normally don’t like these kind of movies but ended up enjoying this because I liked Alita as a character and liked the romance.

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