Friday, February 15, 2019

Alita: Battle Angel

With an interesting character and set-up, but far too much plot for a single film that feels rushed at times while still getting nowhere close to a definitive ending before the credits roll, Alita: Battle Angel is a mixed success. Adapted by director Robert Rodriguez along with James Cameron and Laeta Kalogridis from a manga series, it was no surprise to me that Cameron orginally saw this as a television project rather than a feature film.

The opening where an apparently worthless robot is found in a junkyard only to be revealed as the best warrior ever reminded me more than a little of Real Steel. The junkyard treasure here is a cyborg (Rosa Salazar) who Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz) will find, repair, and name after his daughter Alita. Despite her innocent appearance, Alita proves to quite formidable. As with many recent sci-fi films, Alita: Battle Angel has a strong class warfare aspect as all those we meet are living in the dystopian slums with a privileged class living high above in a floating city. Over the course of the film Alita will begin to remember fragments of her past leading her into conflict with the overseer in the skies above.

The film features a father/daughter relationship between Alita and Ido, a romance between Alita and a street rat of questionable character (Keean Johnson), and several subplots involving Ido's ex-wife (Jennifer Connelly), a glorified murder-sport for cyborgs, Alita's complicated past, both Ido and Alita working as bounty hunters (and Alita causing friction with other bounty hunters), the act of attacking cyborgs and stripping them for parts, , the evil mastermind in the sky playing games, and more. With so much story, the film rarely has an opportunity to slow down and allow its characters to breathe. Since those involved obviously saw the film as the first in a franchise (hence the cliffhanger ending), I think pulling back a bit on the amount of story here (leaving more for the inevitable sequel) would have served the characters better.

Alita's look, and the heart which Salazar infuses the CGI character with, certainly gives the film a strong protagonist while her amnesia proves to be a convenient way to introduce the character (and audience) to the current state of the world. If the goal was to make Alita more human than most of the other characters, Rodriguez succeeds (in part because some of the supporting cast is paper-thin at best). The film delivers some impressive fight sequences as well, especially late, even if Alita's adversaries are far less interesting than she proves to be. Even with its limitations, and a plot that both meanders and rushes through its story, Alita: Battle Angel provides a fun diversion.

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