For a film that is based off some of the most influential manga, it’s truly shocking to me how Alita: Battle Angel is so depressingly stale. It may have some of the best looking visual effects that I have seen in the long time, but it’s ultimately about the only thing in the entire film worth commending. It’s disastrous, clichéd, and a true chore to endure. At multiple points during my press screening, I was more than tempted to stand up and leave. The clunky dialogue and messy storytelling continuously wear on the viewer. Almost entirely disregarding the proven structure of three acts,Battle Angel jumps straight to the climax, while admittedly feasting the audience to some fantastic action sequences, sequences which do prove that director Robert Rodriguez has a true eye for action. It quickly draws on the viewer just how many endings the film has up its sleeve, and makes the remaining twenty minutes a dragging bore.
In the end, there is still little to like about the film. And it’s a real shame, because it drags in some excellent talent such as Mahershala Ali and Rosa Salazar to bear witness to this traumatic disaster. Alita: Battle Angel is a disappointingly stale experience that scatters its wild and overly ambitious ideas all over the floor and doesn’t know how to use them.
Starring Rosa Salazar in the titular role, Alita is discovered and reassembled by the genius Dr. Ido, played by Christoph Waltz. But as her forgotten memory slowly comes together, haunting revelations from her past threatens to reveal who she really is.
More than anything, Alita: Battle Angel plays like a YA adaptation, a genre which has long gone out of popularity, replaced by the numerous comic book franchises. It has the traditional hero or heroine, in this case, who must discover who they really are and fight a multitude of social class issues and fall in love in a matter minutes. The film fits all of these standards, and conforms to even more storytelling conventions.
For example, the love story between Rosa Salazar’s Alita and Keean Johnson’s Hugo is rushed and muddled. Their relationship happens far too quickly and feels unnatural. In other films, this issue could easily be excused. After all, most films don’t spend that much time fully developing their protagonist’s love interests, making the relationships far less prevalent. However, the emotional resonance of Alita’s story rests almost entirely on this romance. Director Robert Rodriguez spends so much time on their relationship, but never properly develops it. It doesn’t help that actor Keean Johnson acts almost lifeless when he’s on screen. Alita: Battle Angel is little more than a series of clichés, buried under the façade of one of the best looking films in months.
In that regard, Weta has truly gone the extra mile, with the completely CGI character of Alita actually seemingly like a real person, who the audience can connect to. While her massive eyes are initially distracting, the effect and discomfort wears off quickly, as Rosa Salazar turns in a charming and likable performance. It’s not revolutionary by any stretch of the imagination, but it does redeem her awful and overstated performances as Brenda in the Maze Runner series.
The visual effects are overall excellent as well. The locations are vivid and imaginative, and they enhance some of the most stunning action sequences to ever grace the screen in recent memory. There certainly is an overabundance of them, with the world remaining in the traditional futuristic slums style. It’s a look that Peter Jackson’s Mortal Engines took a step too far, and Battle Angel doesn’t remove the sour and bitter taste that other films in that type of location had blazed.
In fact, one could argue that the film detriments the cliché even further. Certain shots appear ripped out directly from other films, films that were released in the past year. But in other scenes, interestingly, there are some stunning frames that looked straight out of a manga volume. The lighting in these moments are wistfully reflective, making for a breathtaking adaptation from the original source’s genre.
But as a collective sum, when moving past its technical flairs, Alita: Battle Angel still doesn’t add up to anything worthwhile. Its overbearing story weighs down on the viewer, forcing them to endure a two-hour film that feels far over five hours. It certainly has spectacle for those who do choose to attend, including one of the best 3D presentations in years, with magnificent action sequences and visual effects, and it has a talented cast including Academy-Award winning Mahershala Ali. Even then though, it’s hard to see me recommend this film as anything more than just a film to watch on the airplane when it’s difficult to fall asleep. In that scenario, Alita: Battle Angel is perfect, because it will allow you to do that very quickly.
Set several centuries in the future, the abandoned Alita is found in the scrapyard of Iron City by Ido, a compassionate cyber-doctor who takes the unconscious cyborg Alita to his clinic. When Alita awakens, she has no memory of who she is, nor does she have any recognition of the world she finds herself in. As Alita learns to navigate her new life and the treacherous streets of Iron City, Ido tries to shield her from her mysterious past.
ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL hits theaters on February 14th, 2019.