Alita: Battle Angel (2019) Review

VISUALLY ENTERTAINING, BUT INCOMPLETE


 

Over the past thirty years, the stylish cartoon tales of Japanese anime has all been a popular genre for many; findings this animated realm appealing with its variety of stories to tell. Given the plethora of different styles of anime (ranging from feature films to TV series), it comes as no surprise that Hollywood has taking an interest in these Japanese cartoons; pulling from their source material (in some capacity) to be repurposed and / or presented in a new live-action cinematic light for moviegoers. Sometimes movies have drawn inspiration from the genre (as a whole) in piecing together influence motifs and nuances from various anime projects, including 2013’s Pacific Rim (taking from the 90s TV series Neon Genesis Evangelion), 1998’s Dark City (taking from the 1988 film Akira), and 2010’s Inception (taking from 2006’s Paprika). Other times the movies (or TV shows) have taken the anime property and tried to reimagine them under the guise of a direct story adaptation, including 2017’s Ghost in the Shell (taking from the 1995 film of the same name) and 2015’s Death Note (taking from the 2006 TV show of the same name). Now, 20th Century Fox (as well as Lightstorm Entertainment) and director Robert Rodriguez present the latest Hollywood blockbuster endeavor that takes inspiration from anime with the feature film Alita: Battle Angel, a film adaptation of Yukito Kishiro’s manga (Japanese graphic novel) titled Battle Angel Alita. Does this motion picture find its appeal with its visually sci-fi aesthetics or does it flounder underneath its source material and overall high expectations?

THE STORY


Set in the distant future of the 23rd Century, the Earth has changed, faced with the aftermath of a cataclysmic event titled “The Fall” and much more harsh and shattered existence of living. While scouting the junkyard metropolis of Iron City, a cybernetics and trash while the utopia and luxurious sky city of Zalem hovers overhead, Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz) discovers a discarded robotic body in the scraps waste; using his expertise knowledge to rebuild the bot to create Alita (Rosa Salazar), a cyborg with a metallic shell and the brain of a teenage girl. While her sentient mind is intact, Alita has amnesia, unsure of her life before, but is happy to find a home with Ido, who fills his fatherly needs after a broken relationship with fellow genius Dr. Chiren (Jennifer Connelly), who’s now allied herself with Vector (Mahershala Ali), a powerful underworld figure who has “connections” to Zalem. With the aid of Hugo (Keean Johnson), a friendly young man who takes a shine to the naïve cyborg, Alita learns to navigate in her dangerous surroundings of Hunter-Warriors, bounty hunters who keep a metallic order amongst the community, and the violent excitement of the popular game of Motorball. However, fragments of Alita’s past begin to surface within her, uncovering who she really is and how much of a danger (and desire) she is Zalem.

THE GOOD / THE BAD


As much as I love cinematic narratives from both TV shows and movies, I still do love to watch some Japanese anime feature film and TV series on occasions. Yes, I did grow up watching a few in my young adolescent years (i.e. Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball Z to name a few), while I expanded more into the genre during my teenage years. I was more into the TV series shows than the feature films, but my appreciation for the anime was palpable (I was more into the fantasy and the sci-fi mecha ones mostly). I did eventually grow out of it as I began to watch more live-action TV shows, but anime (as a whole) is something that I do like and continue to do so with a few projects here and there. Of course (being a fan of movies in general), I’ve seeing (and heard) several big / prominent Hollywood films that have taken inspiration from anime works as well as seeing several adaptations of projects over the years…most recently with 2017’s Ghost in the Shell (a movie that I liked, but still kind of preferred the original 1995 anime movie).

This brings me back to talking about Alita: Battle Angel, a 2019 sci-fi theatrical motion picture that’s based on the popular Japanese manga series. A few years ago, I do remember hearing about a cinematic representation was in the works for the manga series and that director James Cameron was gonna be attached to the project (in some shape or form). I also remember hearing some of the cast members being attached to the film (i.e. Ali, Connelly, Waltz), which definitely intrigued me…. since I like all those acting talents. Like many, I do remember seeing the film’s first trailer when I saw Star Wars – Episode VIII: The Last Jedi back during the end of 2017 and definitely was curious to see this movie when it came out in summer of 2018. r, the film was (unexpectedly) pushed back with a new release date set for December of 2018. Still, I was getting more excited to see the movie as new movie trailers as I went to the movies every week and (most of the time) saw it. Unfortunately, Alita: Battle Angel was again delayed a second time, being pushed back until February 2019. I assume this was due to the film’s December release date, which was being released alongside several other movies (i.e. Aquaman, Bumblebee, Second Act, and Welcome to Marwen). Thus, it is understandable as to why that the studios decided to move Alita: Battle Angel a few months back…. where the feature would have a better chance of producing bigger numbers at the box office (away from numerous competitors). So, February of 2019 finally arrived I finally got the chance to see Alita: Battle Angel. Unfortunately, I fell a little bit behind on my reviews, so I held off on doing my review for this movie a few weeks after its theatrical release. Now, I finally have the chance to share with you (my readers) my thoughts on the movie. So…what did I think of it? Well, Alita: Battle Angel was definitely a visual spectacle and had its entertainment value, but felt incomplete and struggles under the weight of its source material. There’s definitely a movie worth watching, but its prolonged delay to its release (and its overall hype) aren’t exactly on par with what’s actually presented.

As stated, director James Cameron was planning on directing Alita: Battle Angel (many years ago), spending more than a decade “mulling” over how to approach Kishiro’s popular manga series for a more “American” Hollywood audience. However, as time passed, the visual filmmaker pushed the project aside and eventually moved onto producing his ground-breaking visual / ambitious project titled Avatar (and the long-awaited sequels that are soon to released in the years to coming). Thus, in Cameron’s absence, the directorial duties for Alita: Battle Angel were passed onto writer / producer / director Robert Rodriguez, whose previous directorial works includes From Dusk Till Dawn, Sin City, and Spy Kids. Given a wide range of his directorial works (ranging from kid-friendly to more dark comic book dramas), Rodriguez seems to find a “happy medium” when it comes to Battle Angel; finding the director’s talents utilizes to make the popular manga series a blockbuster affair with plenty of visual appeal and big-screen cinematics throughout. In that regard, Rodriguez succeeds in making Battle Angel a visually appealing blockbuster fanfare that will surely delight any fan of the sci-fi variety. As to be expected, the feature is definitely an ambitious project, dealing with its Japanese manga source material by Kishiro and certainly does feel like…. reimagine the story of a big-screen endeavor that’s brimming with common usage / nuances that are commonly found in modern-day tales of dystopian futures and clashing of class / society. This ultimately plays into the film’s script, which was penned by James Cameron as well as Laeta Kalogridis, which sees the titular character of Alita discovering her new surroundings (i.e. learning the ways of society) as well discovering about herself. It’s a classic hero’s journey of discovery and awareness that certainly does work (for the most part). Plus, it’s also great that both the script and Rodriguez’s vision of the film makes the character of Alita a strong / badass character, who is easily one of the big positive highlights of the movie (more on that below). Basically, if you’re looking for a big-budgeted feature as well as strong female protagonist characters…. you’ll definitely find something in this film.

As to be expected, the overall technical presentation of Battle Angel is quite impressive and is definitely a fantastic visual appealing motion picture that’s worth of any big budgeted summer blockbuster. All the technical achievements are pretty fantastic to see and they perform throughout the movie; seeing plenty of intricate details of body movement, facial expressions, and various landscapes. This is most apparent in the film’s setting of seeing the variety of locations of Iron City (and its surroundings areas) come alive in the backdrop. Additionally, the visual aspect is mostly enjoyable when the feature’s action kicks in…most notably during all the motorball sequences or several encounters that Alita has with various Hunter-Warrior bounty hunters. All of this makes for some great CGI eye candy that Battle Angel has to offer and is definitely something for fans and moviegoers who are looking for a sci-fi spectacle. Thus, I do have to give credit the visual effects team for their detailed work on the film as well as the movie’s cinematographer Bill Pope for producing many various dramatic camera shots that lend credence to the cinematics that Rodriguez wants to tell. All the others presentation feature staples, including production designs, set decorations, and costume designs are also good as well, elevating the film’s overall “look and feel” throughout. Lastly, the film’s score, which was composed by Junkie XL is rather good and definitely adds to all the sci-fi cinematic grandeur that the feature boast and within all scene nuances (be it big / flashy moments or soft / personal ones).

Unfortunately, Battle Angel isn’t exactly the absolute perfect sci-fi movie that was promised it to be, with several problems that the feature faces and can not overcome. Perhaps the ones that’s most prevalent one (of the movie) is the actually story…. or rather the how the story is presented. As mentioned above, the screenplay was done by Cameron and Kalogridis, has all the classic narrative tropes of seeing a hero’s origin story, but it all feels derivate to a certain degree. That’s not saying that it’s still fun to see how it all happens (and come together in the end), but it feels like many other sci-fi epics have done the same thing and with better cinematic storytelling handling. A crucial part of this criticism comes from how much story is actually crammed into Battle Angel’s narrative. With a runtime of 122 minutes (two hours and two minutes), the movie isn’t necessary long in the ways and means of its length, but the script definitely has way too much narrative / plot to unpack through the feature. This can be clearly seeing in Alita’s journey throughout the course of Battle Angel, following her from curious youth of the world, to Hunter-Warrior, to Motorball participant, to uncovering the truth of the past, and so on. It’s all well and good and do make for a story to be told, but there’s so much ground to cover that it all just feels “crammed”; making a two-hour runtime feel much longer.

Adding to that notion is the simple fact (because of this) that Battle Angel’s pacing is off; moving quickly through certain events and plot / key developments, while also overstaying / overstating certain story beats throughout. Due to this, not enough time is devoted to every single narrative thread that Cameron and Kalogridis want to tell as Rodriguez makes the feature run its course with cut down iteration of the bare essential story elements of the script. Of course, the movie would’ve been three hours (or longer) if Rodriguez expanded upon everything that the script asked for in Battle Angel, but I think that one or two sub-plot elements could’ve been eliminated from the final screenplay to make the film more “streamlined” version. Even simplistic cinematic narrative stuff such as character developments and world-building (of which there’s plenty in the movie to explore) never gets fully fleshed out, especially concerning the floating utopia city of Zalem and the character of Nova. Thus, despite the visual flair that the movie has going for it, the story of Battle Angel comes off as a little “too much” as well as “not much; a perplexing duality of cinematic undertaking.

This, of course, leads into another problem that I felt that Battle Angel, which was how incomplete the feature feels. To be sure, there’s plenty of mystery to the film’s overall narrative arc (i.e. seeing the mystery behind Alita’s past and how she controls her abilities), which is to be further explained (and brought to light) by the possibilities of future sequel installments. Unfortunately, as it has been proven from several recent potential franchise endeavors of late, unless the movie has already been proven to sell (i.e. Harry Potter, Star Wars, or the MCU), creating a movie franchise is hard thing to sell, especially since the coveted “tag” for a series of feature films isn’t really guaranteed. This is the exact case with Battle Angel, which certainly does have the potential to continue further (and that’s some I would like to see), but the movie itself feels incomplete and doesn’t even offer that much of a satisfying ending. It’s like watching Peter Jackson’s first LOTR movie (The Fellowship of the Ring) with the notion that the other two entries in Tolkien’s trilogy might or might not get a cinematic adaptation treatment; leaving viewers left with an unfinished / unresolved story. In a nutshell, Battle Angel fells part of a longer story that may never be released, with its potential future continuation in a rather limbo stance.

The cast of Battle Angel has plenty of recognizable faces that do make the most of their sum parts as characters in the feature. However, due to the very “crammed” story, some of these characters get shortchanged and end up being one-dimensional caricatures / serving the narrative purposes. At the head of the pack and leading the charge is actress Rosa Salazar, who plays the film’s female lead protagonist character Alita. As mentioned above, the character of Alita definitely has that classic character build of a hero’s journey that starts out naïve and slowly becomes stronger and aware of her situation and I think that the movie does certainly benefit from that. Yes, it’s really new arc to follow, but it’s ones that the film needs and do so justly (for the most part…. barring those few loose ends of the feature never resolves). Still, for her part, Salazar, known for her roles in Bird Box, Nigh Owls, Maze Runner: Death Cure, isn’t quite the big name / recognizable star of the feature, but she is definitely the one that carries the weight of the film on her shoulders and does so masterfully. As mentioned above, the visual effects are great in the movie and are justly so to render the character of Alita in her face (given her enlarge / big manga style eyes…. akin to its source material) as well as robotic body motions. Likewise, Salazar gives a great performance, finding the classic tropes of a character of fear, curiosity, and overall kick-ass action nuances work in her favor and definitely makes them her own. Whether you like the movie or not (or somewhere in-between), there’s no denying that Salazar’s portrayal of the titular character of Alita is the true backbone of the film’s positive strengths.

Alongside Salazar’s Alita, the character of Hugo, who befriends her and act as a love interest in the movie, plays a semi-important role in the movie. Played by actor Keenan Johnson (Nashville and Spooksville) the character of Hugo plays the stereotypical love interest for the main character (i.e. Alita in this movie) as he shows her many of “the ropes” in and around Iron City; slowly uncovering more about him as the narrative progresses. Johnson does a decent job in the role of Hugo and as a love interest for Alita. Although, I kind of wish there was more to him than what’s presented as the potential is there. Shame that it’s never expanded upon.

In supporting roles, Battle Angel has a few “big name” acting talents that are involved on the project and do lend their thespian screen presence to the feature’s proceedings. Perhaps the one that makes the most last impression on the movie (and us…the viewers) is actor Christoph Waltz (Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained), who plays the character of Dr. Dyson Ido. Like many out there, I believe that Waltz is a great character actor and definitely has had several memorial roles in his acting career. In Battle Angel, the actor certainly lends his theatrical abilities to the role, giving Ido a fatherlier human warmth and parental wisdom to the character of Alita; nurturing her and protecting her from the dangers of Iron City. Although, the character of Ido handles a lot of the feature’s exposition dialogue lines, Waltz is up the challenge and gets the job done in that regard. Plus, when he shares scenes with Salazar, the character interactions of Alita and Ido are great. Unfortunately, the other two big named talents of the film, which consists of actor Mahershala Ali (Green Book and Moonlight) as the influential entrepreneur / criminal connections dealer Vector and actress Jennifer Connelly (Blood Diamond and Only the Brave) as Ido’s estranged ex-wife and gifted cyborg engineer Dr. Chiren. Like Waltz, Ali and Connelly are very gifted individuals who do lend layered theatrical credence on a lot of their projects (be it for the small or big screen). That being said, their characters of Vector and Chiren aren’t exactly the most well-rounded and end up being flat and forgetful, which is disappointing. Their talents and screen presence do elevate the characters slightly, but its not enough to make Ali’s Vector and Connelly’s Chiren memorable.

The rest of the cast are in minor supporting roles, including actor Ed Skrein (Deadpool and If Beale Street Could Talk) as the arrogant sword-wielding Hunter-Warrior bounty hunter named Zapan, actor Jackie Earle Haley (Watchmen and Little Children) as the huge assassin-like Hunter-Warrior cyborg Grewishka, actress Idara Victor (TURN: Washington’s Spies and Made Men) as Ido’s assistant Nurse Gerhad, and actor Jorge Lendeborg Jr. (Love, Simon and Bumblebee) as one of Hugo’s friends Tanji. Collectively, these acting talents are pretty good (from their past projects) and do add a subtle text of supporting characters nuances. Some have important minor roles in the movie than others, but they all work what the feature needs.

FINAL THOUGHTS


A story of identity, life fulfillment, and human purpose that’s wrapped up in the science fiction guise of cyborgs, futuristic weapons, and a dystopian setting in the movie Alita: Battle Angel. Director Robert Rodriguez latest feature sees to adapt the popular Japanese manga series into a Hollywood blockbuster; breathing new cinematic purpose into this origin tale of a young girl and her journey to discover her past and who is she. While the movie has plenty of exciting scenes and cinematic spectacles of a strong female protagonist lead’s journey, the film does get weighed down by a crammed story (i.e. too much, never enough), some derivate pieces, several waster acting talents, and a rather incomplete motion picture. To me, this was movie was somewhere between good and okay. It definitely has its sci-fi visually appeal merits and as a good badass female protagonist character to root for, but it just feels incomplete and I rather would’ve liked to seeing a more standalone feature (or some) thing that has more of conclusion / wrapping up of events more wholesomely). Thus, my overall recommendation for Alita: Battle Angel is somewhere between “recommended” and “iffy-choice” as some will like this movie (and really dig it), while others we see it only as a mediocre blockbuster endeavor. As you can tell…. I’m somewhere in the middle of those two opinions as it didn’t quite live up to its hype, especially after its delays. Suffice to say that I still think the film has a decent effort of being entertaining and appealing to buy it on home release. However, at the end of the day, Alita: Battle Angel is stunning sci-fi piece of blockbuster flair that, while it has its many flaws, still keeps its head afloat for cinematic viewing. The big question, however, is will we ever see Alita 2 in the future? The answer to that is a bit vaguer and more ambiguous than either of the character of Nova or futuristic floating city of Zalem.

3.6 Out of 5 (Recommended / Iffy-Choice)

 

Released On: February 14th, 2019
Reviewed On: April 9th, 2019

Alita: Battle Angel  is 122 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and some language

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