ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL
Directed by: Robert Rodriguez
Written by: James Cameron, Laeta Kalogridis, Robert Rodriguez, Yukito Kishiro
Starring: Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Keean Johnson
Review by Mia Santos
Going into Alita: Battle Angel I knew quite a bit about it. First announced in 2003 this movie has been 16 years in the making and is yet another CGI-dependant, sci-fi motion picture co-written and co-produced by James Cameron. This film was set aside so long due to Avatar and now the long-awaited Avatar sequel slated to come out sometime in 2020, 10 years after the first instalment. Alita: Battle Angel started off as a 3 hour screenplay adapted from the manga series of the same name by Yokito Kishiro. With the help of director Robert Rodriguez, the film was packed into a 2 hour and 22 minute epic that, although entertaining at times, does feel overwhelming with too many plot lines, sub plots, and plot holes that leave the viewer with a lot of questions. The movie is packed full of story, adventure and action and this is my take of as much of it that I can touch on.
The film begins by briefly giving us the history of Iron City, a post apocalyptic civilization set in 2563, three centuries after “The Fall”, a war that wiped out half the population. This new dystopian world is separated in two. The Iron City metropolis where the poor survive amongst cyborgs and bounty hunters and Zalem, a city in the sky where the wealthy elite reside that we never get to see. The two cities are run by Nova. The big bad guy in all this, clouded in mystery until the very end when he is revealed. I’ll admit now that I had to stifle a laugh at the casting choice. He’s not a bad actor or anything, just not what I expected considering how evil he is suppose to be.
Considering how poor and horrible Iron City is described by the characters they really do a terrible job selling the danger and poverty of this place to us. I mean the building themselves look like a bunch of old air conditioners piled on top of each other with terrible wiring amongst old 20th century buildings made of stone but the climate looks great and the air looks clean and sustainable. From the film, cyborgs and humans live in unity, many languages are spoken and people seem happy. Other than Zalem using the Iron City to dispose of their waste the city doesn’t seem all the bad. The landscape reminded me of the favelas found in Brazil which I felt was one of the many Latinidad nods given by Rodriguez throughout the film. He has a reputation of adding his culture into his movies and as a fellow Latina I’m here for it.
When Alita is finally introduced she is found in a scrapheap by cybernetic doctor Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz). She is just a humanoid head with an intact, living organic brain. He takes her back with him and rebuilds her with the help of his assistant played by Idara Victor who had so few lines in the film – she has little need to be part of the film at all. Not her fault of course! I blame the writers and maybe editors.
When Alita wakes up she’s not scared or confused but a happy-go-lucky, typical teenager that even eats an orange – which I have so many questions about. Why become a humanoid if you still need to eat food to gain strength? Why become a teenaged humanoid at all?! Even though she doesn’t have a memory of who she once was she doesn’t seem to care to know, which really off sells why we as the viewers should care. As soon as she steps out of Ido’s lab she is not well liked by others for reasons that aren’t entirely hashed out. She also soon meets human Hugo (Keean Johnson) who becomes her love interest in all this but not until her young teenage, robot body given to her by Ido, based on his late daughter, is upgraded to a high-tech body that reshapes itself to the subconscious image of herself that includes a sweet rack that catches Hugo’s eye. Even as a cyborg, the male gaze is alive and well.
The films incorporates so much more that I am hesitant to touch on, like bounty hunters who kill people who are wanted for whatever reason. Alita eventually becomes a bounty hunter herself but becomes a target because of her skills as a trained fighter and good nature. Or the people who rob cyborgs of their parts to sell in the black market for money. I also can’t forget to mention this world’s sport of choice: Motorball. It’s like a cool mix of roller derby and rugby. It’s a lot, which might as well be the theme of this movie: A LOT! We soon learn Alita is awesome at it. But how? But why? Does it matter? It does. See, the winning player of the Motorball Championships gets to ascend to Zalem. I smell foreshadowing! Of course this sport is run by super villain Vector played by Mahershala Ali and Ido’s ex-wife and also amazing cybernetic doctor Chiren played by Jennifer Connelly. These two are out for Alita as well. The Motorball scenes are fantastic and a lot of fun. This sport could have been its own film frankly. I found it one of the most entertaining and stronger parts of the story.
I do want to point out that Alita as a character is really likeable. She’s sweet, adorable and bad ass AF. She a dog lover, fights for what is right, pure, generous and good beyond belief. She’s a character that overall heightens this film and keeps it afloat throughout even if she’s practically perfect with no flaws what-so-ever. I guess it comes with being a humanoid? Played by Rosa Salazar we learn Alita is a 300 year old, skilled warrior from another planet trained in a special martial arts that has long since extinct. Her model is also extinct with a heart that could power Iron City for a year alone. The job of “battle angel” doesn’t even exist anymore since the War on the Moon—another long story I’m not going to delve into.
The fight scenes were so well choreographed and beautifully done it really took away from all the plot holes found throughout. One scene that really stood out for me was a fight where she’s left severely damaged by her opponent. With just one arm left and a bit of her torso she springs into rage to finally defeat her cyborg enemy and I couldn’t help but cheer along with the crowd. I felt so immersed and invested during the action scenes. The film is also viewed in 3D which is not really a selling point for me. Call me a purist but I’ve never felt the need for it to enjoy my film watching experience and I don’t think it adds much more to the film.
Skip it! Alita: Battle Angel ends on a cliffhanger. I guess Cameron and Rodriguez are really hoping for a sequel from this one. It was something I felt was a bit overzealous and arrogant of them. The film has very little working for it. It comes off as an ambitious project that didn’t quite pan out.
Not even the incredible cast full of a diverse, star studded actors could attract enough momentum to pursue that sequel they are promising us at the end. Alita herself is a strong, wonderful character that I really enjoyed and fell in love with, but sadly her world and life is too overpacked and complicated to follow along in a 2 hour feature film adaption.