Alita: Battle Angel is a perfectly adequate action adventure that ticks all the boxes. The visual effects are stunning, truly top notch, but nothing else is worth writing home about. The story of Alita is filled with teenage angst, quickly evolving emotions and hasty dialogue. However, credit to director Robert Rodriguez and writer/producer James Cameron for giving this rather unimaginative story arc a look and style that truly is revolutionary.

Alite, played by Rosa Salazar, is a deactivated Cyborg that’s given new life by Dr. Dyson Ido, played by Christoph Waltz. Alita can’t remember her past life, but in time she remembers her past, finds her purpose and discovers who she truly is.

Pretty straight forward heroic tale right?

The story plays out a lot like a video game and Alita leveling up as her journey unfolds. There are literal moments when she receives new upgrades and levels up to face steeper-and-steeper threats. It’s a problem that she cannot seem to die…it’s like a Lego video where the characters are only dismembered to be rebuild and related better than before.

There is a certain part of the movie where Alita is brought to her lowest point…cut down to pieces against a foe she wasn’t ready for, but still she finds a way to survive and escape trouble. You know what the scene is trying to accomplish, but it just. Doesn’t. Click.

That coming-up-short in terms of emotional punch persists throughout Alita: Battle Angel. In the love story with Hugo, in the father-daughter type relationship, in the build-up of a villain, in the climatic conclusion…

It’s like the Jumbotron operator at a big arena trying to get the crowd amped up in a game with the “GET LOUD” animation…but the song in the background is a John Mayer slow dance ballet. It just doesn’t sync up.

Now to all the people who are screaming at the blog: “BUT JONATHAN, ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL IS NOT ABOUT THE STORY. IT’S ABOUT THE ACTION!!!”

The look and atmosphere of Alita: Battle Angel is spectacular, and especially when the action is spilling across the entire screen. Every single action set-piece in this is what Michael Bay wishes he could do in Transformer movies. Rodriguez’s eye with Cameron’s investment in special effects and visualization make Alita: Battle Angel pop.

The amount of close-up slow-motion shots may warrant on the 300 territory, but each is welcomed. The audience can be first stunned by the visual achievement in the opening 10-minutes when Alita is checking out her new look. The intricacy in the design and movement of limbs is mesmerizing. The render rate on all the motion captures and visual effects must have been mind-boggling.

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The greatest example of Alita: Battle Angel’s stunning visuals and action comes in the motorball sequence. Rodriguez made this scene with a mix of CG and live stunt work, and he studied NASCAR telecasts to keep it simple and precise. It paid off. It’s impossible to look away while Alita is battling against numerous blood-savvy bounty hunters. The whole sequence benefits from the fact that nobody really knows the rules…it’s a free-for-all metallic version of kill-the-carrier with whirring weapons intertwined. It’s impossible to not be impressed with the way Alita: Battle Angel dazzles the eyes.

Rosa Salazar, most known for her role of Brenda in the Maze Runner franchise, plays Alita. Her performance, for being all motion capture, is all in the innocence she portrays. It’s over the top at times, but that naivety and confidence plays towards the style that the story is going toward. Alita’s self-assurance is never in doubt in the entire film, the only times she seems to be truly disheartened comes when her friends are put into harm’s way.

There are plenty of familiar faces in Alita: Battle Angel. Jennifer Connelly plays a completely tertiary doctor who’s at the behest of Mahershala Ali’s bad guy persona, Vector. Neither performer, specially Ali, has as much screen time as advertised. Also there is Ed Skrein, who is playing a character eerily to that of Ajax in Deadpool.

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Can we talk about Christoph Waltz? The man needs a re-invigoration nearly to the level Keanu Reeves has had. Following his back-to-back Oscar winning performances in Inglorious Bastards and Django Unchained, Waltz, has had a bit of a downturn in terms of quality content. In the three years after his portrayal of Dr. King Shultz, he was in some successful movies like Horrible Bosses 2 and Spectre. Waltz capped off 2015 being nominated for a Golden Globe for his work in Big Eyes.

But over the past three years, his major motion picture ventures have been The Legend of Tarzan, Downsizing and Alita: Battle Angel. There are a pair of independent movies I have not seen, but I speak for the majority in wanting to see Waltz back in the major spotlight doing what he can do best. His return to prominence may be Wes Anderson’s next film, The French Dispatch, which is set to come out in 2020.

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In terms of his performance in Alita: Battle Angel, Waltz is perfectly fine as Dr. Dyson Ido. He isn’t given much to do with the script and acting amongst all the special effects that make up the movie is daunting to say the least. It’s not his fault that his character is meh, instead it’s the lines like: “This is just a body. It’s not bad or good. That part’s up to you.”

Dr. Ido and all the characters in Alita: Battle Angel have the same through line. They movie as a whole plays more like a video game or graphic novel rather than a film. The story itself is based on a Japanese Manga that run from 1990-1995 and the idea of doing a film has been circled since its inception. The story itself doesn’t fit well within this one movie structure, and with the way Alita: Battle Angel concludes, it definitely appears like the story is meant to continue and reach a conclusion that is adequate.

According to recent reports, there does not appear to be a sequel in the works. With that being said, Salazar is open to playing the role if it comes forward again.

Stanko Rating: C

“Alita: Battle Angel” IMDB
“Alita: Battle Angel” Rotten Tomatoes

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