Alita: Battle Angel (2019)
Director: Robert Rodriguez
Cast: Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly
Synopsis: A deactivated female cyborg is revived, but cannot remember anything of her past life and goes on a quest to find out who she is.
Genre: Action, Adventure, Romance
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 2 hr 2 min
Release Date: February 14, 2019
"Don't underestimate who I am", touts Alita (Rosa Salazar) to her foes.
Indeed, you won't dare underestimate her after witnessing the carnage she unleashes in Alita: Battle Angel. The film, co-written and produced by visionary director James Cameron (the first non-documentary film he's produced since the global phenomenon Avatar 10 years ago) is the story of a trashed female cyborg who is revived and sets out to find her true identity and place in the future dystopian world of the Iron City.
Cameron, who's been known for his pioneering visual effects work his entire career, once again delivers visual spectacle to the highest degree, from the intricate performance capture of Alita to the cyberpunk world she lives in. This is immersive filmmaking--the kind you specifically go the movies for. It's a world that is beautiful at times and unforgiving at other times, just like ours.
The characters that populate this world are a different story.
Importantly, the best and most captivating character is the protagonist, Alita--a confused young girl who simply wants to find out who she is, and where she fits in in this high-tech, yet degraded world. The performance capture for Rosa Salazar does wonders for her character, as she's able to convey real human emotions and expressions. We see the wonder and fierceness in her eyes, as well as the sadness and heartbreak. As the trailers promised, she comes with a punch, and she doesn't hold back, regularly defeating her opponents through what starts out as thoroughly entertaining hand-to-hand combat action sequences. But the problem is the film continues escalating the action to the point that it becomes ear-piercingly loud and mind-numbingly dull. This was by far the loudest IMAX film I've ever seen, and, despite the positive of seeing the striking visuals on the big screen, I immediately regretted the decision not to see the film in a regular format.
And that's the film's biggest fault. It makes room for its long action sequences but sacrifices story and character development in the process. Besides Alita, the characters are largely one-dimensional, especially the antagonist, Vector (Mahershala Ali), who isn't even given motivations for his actions. Even Alita's character evolves too quickly, all in service for including more action sequences. And the film's romance at the center of the story, while genuine, is underdeveloped and often hampered by choppy dialogue. Finally, the plot itself moves around many times in confusing fashion, while rarely explaining story elements that need at least some clarification in order to bring any kind of weight or investment to them.
Despite its character and narrative shortcomings, the film does possess some powerful themes relating to the value and specialness of one individual. Cameron is known for his strong (emotionally and/or physically) female characters, and for highlighting the difference one can make in the course of time, no matter how insignificant they seemingly are in the beginning. As we find out in the film, Alita isn't special or strong because of her physical cyborg structure, but because of her internal components, notably her heart, from which exudes her courage, strength, and skills. It all points to the age-old, yet invaluable truth that it's the inside of oneself--our beliefs and morals that ultimately matter, not the outward appearance.
Like a cyborg stripped of its arm, Alita: Battle Angel is a visually and thematically powerful film, but an incomplete one. It suffers greatly primarily in the character but also story department due to its over-reliance on action spectacle, and the dialogue amongst its characters is cringe-worthy at times. That being said, for those going in looking to witness some amazing visuals and Alita kicking some serious butt, you won't be disappointed. Just don't look too far beyond that.
Written by Anthony Watkins, February 20, 2019