Alita: Battle Angel Review: An action-packed experience that’s worth seeing
Producer/director James Cameron has been working on a live-action adaptation of the popular manga Alita: Battle Angel for over a decade and even handed the directing reigns over to Robert Rodriguez during the film long gestated production. Together, the two have finally brought their vision to life and crafted very fun action film filled with fun moments, characters, story points that subverted my expectations.
The film follows Alita (Rosa Salazar), a cyborg with a human brain that is rebuilt by Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz) but can’t remember anything about her past. In order to find out who she is, she must explore the depths of Iron City, a city filled with the “bottom-feeders” of what’s left after a catastrophic war known as “The Fall” and who only hope that they can maybe one day reach the illustrious city that floats above them: Zalem. As she gets closer to finding the truth, she not only draws the attention of an Iron City dweller Hugo (Keean Johnson), but also the attention of Vector (Mahershala Ali) and his deadly cyborgs. Once Alita learns of her unique fighting abilities, she springs into action against Vector and must find out how he relates to her past.
What makes this film really hold together is how Rodriguez and Cameron come together to build this world. While I’ve never seen the anime or read any manga for Alita, there’s an attention to detail put into how this world is built that is incredibly eye-catching and intriguing. Seeing how the bounty hunters exist in society and how prevalent the film’s sport of Motorball, a deadly game played by cyborgs in a gigantic arena, is in their society made me interested in learning more about the world. Not to mention, the societal ladder between Zalem and the Iron City has something interesting about it, even if the film doesn’t really go into it much.
Alita, herself, is also very fun and has a great energy that’s brought out through Salazar’s solid performance. As a lead, Salazar is very strong and brings out both Alita’s genuinely curious and tough personality that’s fun to see. She’s only made more memorable once the film’s more action-oriented moments crash in and create some of the best moments of the film. The action flows beautifully in both scenes where Alita is fighting against her enemies as well as in scenes where Alita attempts to survive in the Motorball arena. It’s not only fun and a little brutal to watch, but is incredible to look at thanks to the film’s gorgeous CGI. The CGI really gives a distinct look to each character that’s built with it and it’s worth saying that it’s good enough to see it in 3-D or Dolby Cinema.
It’s also worth noting that the film constantly surprised me with how it doesn’t always do the typical tropes or things I would expect it to do with the story. There are moments where it seems a trope of anime or a character’s fate seem pretty obvious, but the film instead finds ways to subvert expectations and mostly succeeds in doing so. It’s tough to say whether this has to do with the strength of the film’s source material or Rodriguez’s ability to translate it to the screen. Either way, though, it works, and it leads to an experience that’s mostly worthwhile and, overall, fun.
Where Alita: Battle Angel can fall a little flat is with certain story aspects and an ending that can make viewers feel divisive. The pacing feels a little too slow at times and I did find myself drifting when the film focuses on certain side characters. Waltz puts in a solid performance and shows some strong emphasis on how much Ido really cares for Alita and I just loved how Ed Skerin constantly proves how great of a villain he is with a charmingly evil portrayal as the elite bounty hunter Zapan. However, their story arcs just never match Alita’s, in terms of impact, so it just never gave me much to think about other than just good performances. This was especially true for the film’s villains as their battles can feel anti-climactic at times and Ali’s Vector feels under-utilized and underwhelming in terms of the overall story arc.
The ending, itself, also feels anti-climactic and kind of rushes to set up a future for the franchise that makes it feel a tad unsatisfying. While there is a special character reveal that makes the ending feel a little worth it, I left feeling a little uncaring. As someone who enjoys Alita’s story and wouldn’t mind seeing more, the ending really lacks the gut-punching finale that I crave, and I basically got told I would have to wait for the real conclusion that I feel I already deserve.
So, while it may have taken quite a while to finish, I think Cameron, Rodriguez, and company put in enough great effort to make Alita: Battle Angel an incredibly fun and action-packed movie-going experience. There’s beautiful set pieces and great characters that just aren’t seen much in recent movies. Also, if you’re willing to shell out the cash for a higher viewing experience, I’d say it’s definitely worth it.