Alita: Battle Angel
Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Ed Skrein, Jackie Earle Haley
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…enjoyable from start to finish and exciting and wide-eyed in a way that should liven even the most jaded and black-hearted audience member.
During the 1990s, a young man by the name of Robert Rodriguez was one of the most exciting and inventive directors around. He burst onto the scene with the micro-budgeted El Mariachi in 1992 and kept cranking out the hits, with gems like Desperado (1995), From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) and Sin City (2005) released to much acclaim. Post Sin City, however, it seemed that Rodriguez missed a trick or two. And though his output still had some appeal (2007’s Planet Terror remains an underrated flick) there were some significantly disappointing efforts like Machete Kills (2013) and Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014). Well, friends, it pleases us greatly to inform you that Robert Rodriguez is back and all it took was a little robot girl and a bit of James Cameron magic.
Alita: Battle Angel is based on the manga Battle Angel Alita by Yukito Kishiro, a multi-volume cyberpunk series released in the ’90s. In fact, producer James Cameron has been trying to get the adaptation made since the late ’90s/early 2000s, which gives you an idea of the torturous route this project has taken.
The story takes place in 2563 and revolves around the (very) wide-eyed cyborg, Alita (Rosa Salazar), who is saved from the literal scrapheap by cyborg Scientist Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz). The two bond, and Ido attempts to teach Alita about society; the underclass who live in grungy Iron City and the upper class who live in a sky city called Zalem.
Alita: Battle Angel is many things – exciting, propulsive, full of spectacle – but it’s certainly not subtle or in any way “hard” science fiction. The movie plays out more like a technology-infused fairy tale, with Alita uncovering her history, unexpected strengths and even a burgeoning relationship with affable human spunk, Hugo (Keean Johnson). It also feels as if the plot contains about three trade paperbacks worth of story and even at 122 minutes zips along at an occasionally dizzying pace. That means that the narrative, involving menacing cyborgs, dark conspiracies and unexpected betrayals doesn’t always have time to give every moment space to breathe. Unfortunately that means a few subplots, including one involving Jennifer Connelly and Mahershala Ali, feel under-cooked when set against the rest of the film.
That aside, however, Alita: Battle Angel is an absolute hoot. The world of Iron City feels rusted and lived in, the characters all have clear agendas and the action is superbly executed, with genuinely exciting set pieces that build to a glorious climax. It’s not a perfect film, at times the dialogue can be wince-inducing and the pace inconsistent, but there’s a joy and excitement here that mirrors Alita’s gleeful appreciation of life itself. Rosa Salazar gives a spectacular performance (albeit one augmented with hefty amounts of CGI) and makes Alita an extremely appealing heroine. If you had fears about taking a trip to the uncanny valley from the trailers, just know that in the final product it all works spectacularly well.
Alita: Battle Angel is gorgeous and at times an unwieldy and profoundly strange beast, that doesn’t always work as well as it could. It’s also consistently enjoyable from start to finish and exciting and wide-eyed in a way that should liven even the most jaded and black-hearted audience member. If you can get in line with its gleeful, cyberpunky charms you’re in for a grand old time at the cinema. Welcome back, Robert Rodriguez, we’ve all missed you.