Alita: Battle Angel is a movie that chooses style over substance, which isn’t always a bad thing. I don’t mind a good piece of mindless entertainment. I love the Fast and Furious franchise, I love a good amount of Michael Bay films, and the Marvel movies don’t exactly get the mental-wheels turning, but they’re awesome. Why do I love these films so much? They’re fun! They are a blast of entertainment, filled with glorious set-pieces, thrilling action, and just sheer excitement that make you almost forget about the lack of plot or poor characters. With two visually-focused filmmakers helming the film, Robert Rodriguez directing and co-writing and James Cameron producing and co-writing, Alita was sure to be a visual force, even being hyped up in it’s ads and trailers as a movie that, “MUST BE SEEN ON THE BIG SCREEN” (which, on another note, all movies should be seen on the big screen).
Now, while Alita: Battle Angel does have a couple cool sequences, the movie is an overall dud. This isn’t a jaw-dropping visual experience, but rather a stilted, boring sci-fi film with terrible writing.
Alita: Battle Angel takes place in 2563 where a catastrophic war known as “The Fall” has left Earth in ruins. While rummaging for robot parts, Dr. Ido (Christoph Waltz) stumbles upon a disembodied female cyborg with a fully intact human brain. Ido rebuilds the cyborg, who doesn’t have any recollections of her past, and names her “Alita” after his deceased daughter. Alita (motion-captured by Rosa Salazar), new to this new Earth, constantly wants to explore this new world, but she quickly realizes it isn’t what she expected and goes off on a journey to find out who she really is.
Alita feels like a movie that had its set pieces before its plot. You can tell they put the time and effort into action, like the fight sequence in the bar or the scenes of the futuristic Motorball, the only sport in this new world. But I was never wowed by the action here, which is surprising coming from Rodriguez and Cameron, two men who understand action. The sequences seemed too quick and the stakes of the scenes were never very high. Alita realizes her powers pretty fast and we quickly realize that she is the most badass person in the movie and could kill anyone at anytime, so I was never worried when she walked into a bar full of violent bounty hunters or was being chased in a murderous Motorball game by hired scum. Alita was always going to be okay, so what’s so thrilling? The 3-D is also okay, but nothing ground-breaking like Avatar or even good like Doctor Strange or Gravity. This movie could be seen in 2-D and you wouldn’t miss that much. The plot is just a formulaic tale of a nobody becoming a savior with awful dialog. This is a movie that specifically focuses on the action and it didn’t even do that right.
There are other characters in this movie, which in a good movie would matter, as they would help with the plot, the themes, or give us more the care about. The story and plot of this film are secondary and solely based around the action. Nobody is developed to be an actual character, but rather serve as a plot device. Dr. Ido is only in the film to create Alita and help her when she’s hurt. Hugo (Keean Johnson), a street hooligan who falls for Alita, is just a love interest who showed Alita how to play Motorball. Vector (Mahershala Ali), the villain we see the most of in the film, runs Motorball and is being controlled by Nova (Edward Norton, who looks an awful lot like James Cameron), who we see briefly at the very end but is otherwise only in the movie by somehow connecting to the minds of other people, like Vector, and speaking through them (I have no idea how this happens, but it does). Chiren (Jennifer Connelly) is Ido’s ex-wife but now works for Vector for some reason I didn’t pick up. And then there are a number of bounty hunters, or as they call them, hunter killers, who all look cool, but don’t matter at all. Nobody in this movie matters, so nothing that happens to them matters. They die, so what? They live, good for them?
There is a scene in the film where Alita, after an intense fight that has left her body in shambles, gets a fresh, shiny, metallic new body that replaces the original one Dr. Ido made for her. It looks a lot cooler, yet inside, she is still only has heavily militarized heart and nothing else. Alita: Battle Angel is a movie that looks cool, fun, and flashy, but at its core, it is a hallow shell of nothingness with Robert Rodriguez and James Cameron at the heart of it.
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