Dipped in the heavy, dreary sauce of “Blade Runner”, naive and childish like “The Phantom Menace” and uncomfortable to watch as anything that tries to push boundaries too hard, “Alita: Battle Angel” is a misfire, which – despite its weirdness – entertains.
The plot, based on a manga, tells the story of Alita (Rosa Salazar) – a cyborg warrior, found on a scrapyard by Doctor Ito (Christopher Waltz) – an inventive engineer. He brings Alita back to life, but once she learns about her powers, others begin to be wildly interested in her acquaintance. One of these people is Vector (Mahershala Ali) who helms the popular game called Motorball – the only passage to the sky in the clouds called Zalem (a place everyone wants to get to including Alita).
Every year, there are films that somehow get an incredible budget, but it’s hard to find a bigger audience that’s genuinely interested in them being made. Let that be the recent wave of upcoming Disney reboots and remakes nobody asks for or, as a matter of fact, “Alita: Battle Angel” – a popular manga that got an immense budget of almost $200 million (probably backed up by the name of James Cameron as the producer).
Prior to watching “Alita: Battle Angel” you might want to know a bit of the original source because the plot, co-written by Robert Rodriguez, is perplexing… to say the least. Rodriguez is quite unsure of what his gargantuan budget should be pumped into.
And here’s why.
Primarily, “Alita: Battle Angel” is an origin story. The heroine, a cyborg with human feelings, seeks to find her reason to exist, almost 300 years after she’s been trashed for reasons unknown. Alita, boldly played by Rosa Salazar, tends to be a zappy-creepy creation that unfortunately fails to make the audience care.
She’s “straight outta manga” and her peculiar appearance (widespread eyes and a sexy look that makes up for a wet weaboo dream) leans toward creepiness and cringe, and even Salazar’s undeniable chutzpah and craving to do more with the character, eventually helps just a little. Alita isn’t particularly likeable, because some parts of her behavior belong to a movie from the 90s, causing her to be stiff and act unnaturally (even given her being a cyborg).
It’s a pity, because Salazar’s appetite for an iconic heroine is palpable.
Apart from being an origin story, “Alita: Battle Angel” plays a tune of a teenage drama/romance, with Alita’s unlikely fall-in-love-with-the-first-young-guy-she-sees-in-the-street scheme. The romance of Alita and Hugo (Keean Johnson) is painted in pale white, lacking in charm or a spark of magic. Some scenes are unbearably uncomfortable, like the one showing half-naked Hugo, with Alita strangely observing him as he wakes up. It ain’t “Casablanca” and James Cameron (the producer of the movie), along with Robert Rodriguez, are sure as hell not masters of Cinderella stories or intimacy (in the end, Rodriguez came up with a handicapped woman with a machine gun instead of a leg…).
Generally, there is a lot of other things going on in “Alita: Battle Angel”, which makes the whole story hard to follow. The script’s as rusty as some of the cyborgs appearing in the film, as if they’re outcasts from “Blade Runner” and “Star Wars” that didn’t make the cut there. At some point, I almost felt as if re-watching “The Phantom Menace” all over again, thanks to an out-of-the-blue race sequence that takes a fair piece of the screening.
All of the above means that “Alita: Battle Angel” shouldn’t be analyzed plot-wise.
Nevertheless, the slick effects and dynamic action sequences are what keep “Alita: Battle Angel” afloat, even despite its sometimes dreary script and writing that dangerously sunk the ship. Rodriguez deploys an array of tricks and gimmicks to pop one’s eye out – slow-motion, CGIed cyborgs (including Nicholas Hoult), and even a scene with a handicapped robot kicking ass. The world is visually immersive and that’s one reason not to hate the movie too much.
A few words should also be told about the big names appearing in the credited cast. You’ll find Christopher Waltz playing Christopher Waltz (and cementing he might be the one single most overrated actor of our times), who also happens to be the source of a weird parental issue (giving Alita the body of his deceased daughter is a bit shady) that kept me scratching my head for most of his screen time.
Then, there is the villain in the persona of Mahershala Ali imagining he’s Neo from “Matrix”. Vector (that name though!) makes up for a laughing stock with every single appearance. Ali’s dead serious approach makes literally no sense in the flashy, manga-based and quirky story, and adds just another layer to “Alita: Battle Angel” hoarse texture.
To be frank, “Alita: Battle Angel” is, occasionally, a lot of fun. Rodriguez collected a team of specialists, who breathed life into the world of Alita. In spite of that fact, it’s a film that rarely makes sense, and contains just too many cringeworthy scenes to let it slide.
Alita: Battle Angel (2019)
Dir. Robert Rodriguez
Hate Grade: 5.5/10