'Alita: Battle Angel' Review
James Cameron and Robert Rodriguez bring the sci-fi world of Alita: Battle Angel manga to life with great success.
Release Date: February 14, 2019
MPAA Rating: PG-13
A deactivated female cyborg is revived, but cannot remember anything of her past life and goes on a quest to find out who she is.
Director: Robert Rodriguez
Screenwriters: James Cameron, Laeta Kalogridis, Robert Rodriguez, Yukito Kishiro
Producers: James Cameron, Jon Landau
Cast: Rosa Salazar (Alita), Christoph Waltz (Dr. Dyson Ido), Jennifer Connelly (Chiren), Mahershala Ali (Vector), Ed Skrein (Zapan), Jackie Earle Haley (Grewishka), Keean Johnson (Hugo), Derek Mears (Romo), Casper Van Dien (Amok)
Editor: Stephen E. Rivkin, Ian Silverstein
Cinematographer: Bill Pope
Production Designers: Caylah Eddleblute, Steve Joyner
Casting Directors: Beth Sepko, Mary Vernieu, Michelle Wade Byrd
Music Score: Junkie XL
Originally meant to be a James Cameron-directed project, Alita: Battle Angel comes by way of Sin City helmer Robert Rodriguez. But even though Cameron may not be in the director’s chair, Alita: Battle Angel has all of the famous director’s trappings, from top notch visual effects to a strong female lead, with plenty of Rodriguez’s signature action flair thrown in for good measure. As a whole, Alita: Battle Angel is a science fiction action adventure that is packed with world building, unique characters, and a story that unravels at its own pace. However, the manga-adaptation falters a bit in trying to make all of those disparate parts feel cohesive, and more so in its ability to balance predictable story beats with a genuine heart.
As an adaptation of several mangas, Alita: Battle Angel does well to keep its head above water. At its core, the story follows an amnesiac cyborg named Alita (Rosa Salazar), who is taken in by Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz), a doctor who specializes in cyborg and augmented human repairs. Early on, it’s apparent that there is something special about Alita, but it isn’t made clear upfront. It’s only through chance encounters with the many denizens, criminals, and “entrepreneurs” of Iron City that Alita’s real identity is revealed.
Eventually her goal becomes reaching Zalem, the last city that is still lifted above the surface and designated as the home of the rich and fortunate. But those same folks, namely the Hunter-Killers that track and kill cyborgs and augmented for money, that help Alita understand her identity also stand in her way.
While that description barely scratches the surface of Alita: Battle Angel, it’s enough for viewers to get by going in. The film’s script does a great job of introducing the manga-inspired world of Iron City and Zalem and highlighting all of the important characters up front, and then let’s them lie in wait until the story calls upon them. For some characters, like Hunter-Killer Zapan (Ed Skrein), that does take some time, but for others like Mahershala Ali’s criminal overlord Vector, the allegiance is made clear upfront.
That’s all to say that Alita: Battle Angel is a densely packed narrative that requires a careful eye if viewers are going to pick up on everything. It can be easy to lose track of what’s going on or who is who, but the film does its best not to let anyone get lost. Even so, it can feel overwhelming trying to keep track of everything, and the film doesn’t even tell a complete story. This is only a small piece of a larger story, which presumably Rodriguez and Cameron hope to continue in a sequel.
Fun characters, great action, an engaging story, and top tier visuals are still enough to make Alita: Battle Angel worth recommending. It does require a very specific taste, but it makes the world palatable enough that it doesn’t feel impenetrable. At its heart, Alita: Battle Angel is big sci-fi fun, and that’s more than enough.
While a lot of the character work and writing in Alita: Battle Angel can be hit or miss, Rosa Salazar knocks it out of the park as Alita. Through performance capture technology, Salazar brings life to a character that moves and interacts in a completely life-like manner but is also capable of accomplishing incredible feats. She brings a lot of wide-eyed (literally) enthusiasm to the role that helps make Alita such a likeable character. No question, she carries the film and gives it the resonant heart it needs.
Although the film relies heavily on CGI, the action in Alita: Battle Angel is well choreographed, exciting, and original. From Alita’s brief stint in the appropriately titled sport of Motorball to outright bar room brawls between cyborgs, the film rarely deviates from its sci-fi action core. The sequences are inventive, visceral, and they give Alita a chance to show just how badass of a character she is. Even if the story doesn’t do much for you, the action should be enough to carry you through.