‘Alita: Battle Angel’ is currently poised to be the first major bomb of 2019. Which is actually quite a disappointing thing to me because I had quite a bit of fun with this film. It’s got some narrative shortcomings, but overall it is quite an entertaining piece of work. There are spectacular action sequences, memorable characters, a sweet little love story, and some fairly stunning visual effects. Not to mention the fact that it ends on a cliffhanger that I really want to see resolved.
The story has been around for quite some time and it’s one that producer James Cameron has always wanted to tell, but I can imagine that he’s been concerned about the economic viability of the project himself. He hasn’t said it publicly, but Cameron is a smart guy. He had to know this was a tricky sell. Luckily for the audiences that will see this movie (and not so much for Fox), director Robert Rodriguez also has a passion for the material and pressed hard to get it made.
Like a combination of ‘Pinocchio’ and ‘A. I.’, the film is about a special to robot who is found and recreated by a Gepetto type father figure (Christoph Waltz). The early goings of the film are about self discovery and they are often quite magical. Actress Rosa Salazar embodies Alita with a child like wonder that brilliantly morphs into kindness, concern, confidence, and strength as the character evolves. She may be a CGI creation, but the performance is completely there and it’s a wonderful one.
It would take several paragraphs to spell out all of the political and social dynamics of the future world in this film, but one of the strengths of the storytelling is that Rodriguez mostly gets across this information with ease. There is a little monologuing, but it feels organic and there is not a bunch of long sequences telling us the history of everything. It mostly just exists and we figure it out through Alita’s eyes. And what big eyes they are. The true magic of this story lies in the way she manages to consistently see the beauty of the world around her, while everyone else seems to want to leave the difficult lives of the inner city.
Now, this doesn’t mean that ‘Alita’ is just some heartfelt future love story. This is a hardcore, kick ass, action film that truly stands out in its visual presentation. Some action sequences are exceptionally choreographed, and the creation of motorball is a new film sport as exciting to watch as it is deadly to play. In fact, the motorball sequences are so visually exciting that they give the best use of 3D a run for its money. And it is true that I just recommended the 3D in this movie. Most of the time I’d tell you to skip it, but Cameron is the master of 3D and Rodriguez carries the mantle well.
All around, this is a fantastic time at the movies. It has some definite tonal shifts, but they handle them with such subtly that I had zero issue when the film shifted from bright eyed to clenching fists and blood. All the performance, from Jennifer Connelly to Mahershala Ali, are genuinely fantastic. Especially Ali. The man possesses such versatility that its hard to take your eyes of him when he’s on screen. The same can be said for most of this film. I went in curious and left excited for more. So, I hope the Chinese love this movie, because I really want to know what happens next.