Okay, let’s just start things off with the two huge elephants in the room regarding Alita: Battle Angel before we touch on anything else: does the titular character look as disconcerting through the whole movie as she does in the trailers and the marketing material?
Well, kinda. After sitting through more than two hours of this movie its biggest problem with its main character isn’t her design, but rather the amount of time and effort that went into each scene. It’s clear that certain key events were given more resources to make Alita look believable, while others were not.
If you watch this movie, or catch clips of it on YouTube a few months from now, look out for the nighttime scene where Alita is wide eyed and awake in bed at night and looks like those creepy dolls that haunted every grandchild when they stayed at their grandparents for the weekend. Also: the part where she eats chocolate, it’s rather uncomfortable to watch.
Other than that Alita looks fine for this kind of movie where most of what you see in every scene is mostly CGI anyways. If large eyes in the main character were your biggest hangup here, it shouldn’t be too much of a bother.
While that may come as a relief, there are a lot of other problems here too.
The story is both this movie’s biggest problem and its greatest strength. Alita: Battle Angel takes place hundreds of years in the future after a great war destroys the Earth’s amazing floating city and lots of advanced tech is lost. This movie picks up long after the war with the last remaining floating city dumps its waste into a scrapyard below, which a city has grown around.
Robotics expert Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz) finds damaged cyborg Alita (Rosa Salazar) in amongst the scrap. Alita’s human brain is still functional, so Ido repairs her with a new body. With no memory of her past life Alita tries to remember who she is while evading evil forces trying to kill her.
If that sounds like an interesting premise, it is, but as the movie plays out its storyline on this foundation is very, very shaky. The plot lines meander all over the place and there’s no real sense of urgency to anything any character does. Some events happen in the blink of an eye and are never mentioned again, while others drag on and on, wearing out their welcome and continue going still.
The best parts of the movie are only shown briefly in flashbacks and fleshed out in some key dialogue. That war mentioned earlier is the most interesting part of this movie and every time you see part of it you wish that it was the entire movie instead. There’s a sequence on the moon that looks amazing, but we only get to see about 30 seconds of it.
If you wanted a great story, you won’t find it here. The plot desperately needed a second round of edits or less writers on the screenplay as three are credited here. It’s just too busy and long winded and reminds us a lot of Ready Player One: another movie that had great spectacle that loses its lustre early on and limps to the credits on weak writing.
This movie also challenges Venom for some of the cringiest dialogue out there. Take your pick from “the strong prey on the weak down here” and “I’m going to cut you open to see if you’re ugly on the inside” for the best of the worst.
If you thought that line about cutting people open was idle chatter, boy you’d be wrong. While we wouldn’t call Alita: Battle Angel gory, you see dozens of people graphically chopped up in this movie. It’s cushioned slightly by the fact that some of the people being killed here are cyborgs so there’s not that much blood, but there are countless lost limbs and rather detailed kills in this one.
This isn’t helped by the fact that, while Alita looks good for the most part, many tertiary and nameless character look like someone Frankensteined a human face onto a Micheal Bay Transformer. It’s actually hilarious at some parts of the movie where actors are trying to emote but they look like a bizarro characters from Thomas the Tank Engine, with tiny flesh faces sown onto bodies with more wheels and exhausts than a freight hauler.
This would have been the perfect opportunity to touch on the popular cyberpunk topic of humanity and what it means to be human when many character are simply brains in robot bodies, but this movie maybe does it once or twice and then moves on with the dozen other things it has going on.
The action is passable and the CGI holds up for the most part, but there’s nothing too memorable here outside of Alita’s initial fight which has some absolutely phenomenal sound work which really sells these large metal character clanging into each other in a fight. Unfortunately this doesn’t carry on to the rest of the movie.
The cast here does a fine a job with only one or two mistakes in some jumble of miscasts or bad character design. Dr. Dyson Ido is probably the worst offender – just look at this poster – there is no way to take him seriously when he looks like a meek preacher wielding the rocket hammer Reinhardt uses in Overwatch.
Salazar does a sterling job as Alita most of the time when the CGI doesn’t fail her, and the rest of the has a varied performance but they’re mostly given very little to do with their characters. Some are given too much screentime as they’re basically playing cartoon bad guys. Ed Skrein, for example, plays a bounty hunter named Zapan who is just annoying to watch.
At this point many people may attribute some or all of our outlined problems here to the fact that this movie is based off of a manga, or that this movie very clearly sets up a sequel. Maybe the source material created some constraints or the sequel will solve this first movie’s issues. Well not of that has any real bearing to the experience you’ll have when you sit down to see this movie.
As is, Alita: Battle Angel is a decently executed movie that ultimately offers nothing new to the formula. It will scratch that cyberpunk itch if you have it, but don’t expect anything revolutionary here.