Alita: Battle Angel
The beauty of your mind is what its capable of and where it allows you to go. Growing up reading comics and graphic novels in the 90’s, my mind took me places I thought only I could’ve imagined. Building massive worlds, even larger universes filled with spectacular people and expansive history. I always wondered if I had the ability to one day translate my dreams into reality in the form of movies. A medium that allows so much opportunity to share my stories with the world. A collaborative experience to create with other likeminded artists aligned with a director’s vision to transport an audience to a time unlike our own. Write a story that incorporates the trials and triumph of the human experience set in fantastical existence. Music that narrates every moment, camera work that appropriately accentuates the directors eye. Action, drama, and comedy that impresses on a scale befitting to its circumstance.
500 years in to the future after a great war, where a single floating city sits high in the clouds; below at Iron City Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz) discovers a disembodied cyborg girl miraculously clinging on to life. He returns to his clinic where he is the local repairman of the many hybrid citizens with this girl to give her a cybernetic body he had developed for his deceased daughter and names the girl, Alita (Rosa Salazar). With no memory of her past she accepts the name and this new way of life and sets out into this world and meets a host of interesting characters along the way. Alita befriends a young scrapper Hugo, (Keean Johnson) who dreams of moving to the floating city above Zalem. Hugo introduces her to the competitive sport of Motorball, a battle royale race wherein cyborgs fight to the death. Alita already wide eyed is tempted to learn more, but Ido steps in to dowse her intrigue. After a series of late night exits by Dr. Ido, Alita follows him against his wishes as there is a serial killer on the loose chopping up innocent women for unknown reasons. An encounter between Ido who Alita is relieved to find is a Hunter Warrior/ Bounty Hunter, is ambushed by a trio of cyborg assassins led by Grewishka (Jackie Earle Haley). Alita, without hesitation springs into action to defend him triggering glimpses into a warrior past of her own. Grewishka escapes. With this new revelation and a near defeat at her hand, Ido shares with her a little more backstory into who and what she really is. Wanting to know more and embrace her true nature Alita with the help of Hugo enlists with the Factory (The Governing Body of Bounty Hunters) to become a registered Hunter Warrior to stop Grewishka from taking his revenge on her and Ido. Later Alita finds an alien shape, rumored to have been from before the “Fall” and feels compel to enter it. She retrieves a special cybernetic body meant for Alita that Dr. Ido refuses to unite with her. In anger and without the power she wants Alita attempts to gather her new Hunter Warrior brethren to stop Grewishka and a mysterious adversary protecting him. Another clash between Alita and Grewishka leaves him further scarred but Alita limbless and near death. Reluctantly to save Alita’s life Dr. Ito unites her core with her new-found body which fully realizes the extent of her power and more of her memories which propels her to infiltrate the underbelly of Iron City, the Motor Ball games and the nefarious connection between it all and Zalem.
There’s a lot there. There’s a whole lot of movie to this movie. So much so the undertaking didn’t serve the overall narrative as it should but left opportunity for future installments to learn from its mistakes and steer the ship in to a more cohesive direction.
Visually, Alita: Battle Angel is stunning. James Cameron and his team brought to life this work akin to his achievements in” Avatar”. Every frame is dynamic and making Alita work on screen is a huge win. This wide eyed sharply designed character was a challenge that the production stepped to the plate and knocked it out the park. The success of this movie visually really opens the door for more properties to be launched going forward that may not have stood a chance.
The set pieces and action sequences are out of this world. From the smaller scenes of the youth Motor Ball course where Hugo 1st introduces Alita to his friends and the game, all the way to the murderous arena set piece where Alita is in a battle for her life trying to earn her way in to the pro league to win enough money for Hugo to get to Zalem.
The fight choreography is not only fantastic but tops of the decade cinematically. I’m a sucker for fight sequences and have been since I was a kid. There has never been a more aggressively beautiful fight choreographed with this level of VFX pulled off. The way Alita moves is so fast yet so organic. Everything she does physically feels real and not a stretch to her stature in contrast to other people around her.
The world building was a tall order. There’s years and years of source material built up from the Japanese Manga, that tried their best to shrink in to a 2-hour movie. While that wasn’t done well, its admirable what was given and what we had to play with, that the prospect of future films is insatiable.
That insatiability once again makes this film work.
On the contrary going forward the direction is going to be paramount to Alita’s success. In adapting an eastern influenced story for American audiences, the challenge is to ground very different ways of thinking to make it palatable. How do we make Sushi which is rich in its design and unique in its flavor, digestible for western audiences? Not saying the story of Alita is so complex us westerners are too dumb to get it. Quite the opposite. While the details of Alita are vast the plot is very straight forward. It’s a story about identity. A long form narrative has the luxury of taking its time to build the story, provide character goals and develop opposing ideas to them. In 2hours Robert Rodriguez was more caught up with the spectacle, he forgot about the story.
The editing didn’t aid in the director’s vision as there were noticeable chunks of this movie taken out asking the audience to assume quite a bit. Were asked to assume what Zalem is. It was never made explicit why is Zalem important and what makes Zalem greater than Iron City. We’re assuming Alita knows more than we are informed and that’s a disservice to the audience. Characters can’t shorten other characters names without informing us. There were many leashes being given to make the 3rd act work that de stabilized character motivation and coherency; like at the end of the film where Alita, enraged at the Factory’s decision to label Hugo a murderer and nearly killed, enters the front door and ascends a building to kill Vector (Mahershala Ali) who was never connected on screen to the Factory at any point in the movie.
We're asked to assume a connection that’s never explained between Iron City and Zalem that defeats the world building by not setting up or following the rules that makes this world run, how things are and why more importantly. Were constantly told things are the way they are with no one asking why. That exploration, that question is the basis of your movie.
The script doesn’t succeed because their multiple movies going on. The editing feels as if we move from act 1 in to part 2 of the 2nd movie and after the 3rd act we’re returning to the beginning of the 2nd movie all happening I this first movie.
It’s because after all the media we consume from TV to Movies we can feel when a story should end. It unfortunately happened 3x in Alita: Battle Angel.
More on what I would do going forward in the “KolbyToldMe Podcast”.
Pit falls aside for a moment we need to celebrate Rosa Salazar and what she does with our new female heroine. Her voice is so appropriate for this character. Not too dainty, yet not masculine. Sexy without being lewd. I’d sit and watch hours of behind the scenes footage just too marvel in how well of a job she did. She played with moments of brevity well and sat in moments of despair when necessary that she never felt inauthentic except when the dialogue just became awful no one could overcome it. Her big eyes helped sell a love story that only worked for her as her counter mate Hugo was ok. Not bad, but also not special as his death had no grip to it.
Mahershala Ali who played Vector, an entrepreneur working under Nova (Our real bad guy), to kill Alita was stunted by the script and a victim not only on screen but critically like Eddie Redmayne in “Jupiter Ascending.” Jennifer Connelly who played Dr. Ido’s ex-wife Chiren manages to be a dull beauty playing both sides but neither particularly well, where you know from the jump her death was bound to happen and wouldn’t be an afterthought. Christoph Waltz like the great actor he is does the best he could with the script and translates this character well and charmingly. The many other characters in the movie do an alright job but with so much going on it’s an uphill battle for audiences to connect to them. Additionally, what about that Jai Courtney cameo. What was going on there? I’m quite sure there was supposed to be more there but like many other parts of the movie, fell by the wayside.
It’s an interesting cross road I find myself. The movie works in some respects and doesn’t in many more that my natural inclination would be to award Alita: Battle Angel a failing score. However, Alita tackles all the greatest feats of fantasy film composition and in this instance, I must ask the audience. What did you come to this movie for? To be wowed! Did that happen? Hell, yeah it did. The one undeniable truth that shines through this film is the pure fun and spectacle this movie is and is worthy of our box office dollars.
KOLBYTOLDME RATING- 7/10
Director: Robert Rodriguez
Writers: Robert Rodriguez, James Cameron, Laeta Kalogridis
Starring: Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali
Run Time: 122 mins