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Friday, February 08, 2019

Alita Battle Angel Movie Review


It's no surprise that when you put two visionaries in film making like Robert Rodriguez and James Cameron together, you get something like Alita Battle Angel.

I'm a sucker for good cyberpunk. Give me post-apocalyptic cities struggling to survive, shades-wearing capitalist goons, and cybernetically-enhanced freaks, and I'm good. Which makes me happy to see producer James Cameron finally bring Alita to life on the big screen.

And how! Just as Avatar pushed the boundaries of computer-generated imagery in movies, Alita Battle Angel brings us one of the most convincing CGI characters we've seen so far. Rosa Salazar plays Alita, a plucky cyborg girl who was found in the scrapyards under the mighty floating city of Zalem by Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz), a renowned surgeon specializing in cybernetics. Alita doesn't know who she is or why she was thrown away like so much trash, but she does know an awful lot about punching and kicking people to death, and her past may be the key to unlocking the mystery of Zalem once and for all.

Salazar's motion-capture performance as Alita is a sight to behold.The moment Alita opens her big huge eyes and tries out her new cyborg body, I forget that this is a CG character amidst a live-action cast. Salazar switches between vulnerable child to cold-blooded killer to doe-eyed love-struck teen with ease, and Alita's expressively huge eyes lend an otherworldly air to her performance. Frankly she's the reason why this movie succeeds where it does.

The character designs are insanely good, and evoke the sort of nihilistic, over-the-top ideas that 90's manga is known for. From maniacs with hideous cybernetic upgrades to hulking cyborg bounty hunters, there's no shortage of eye candy for cyberpunk aficionados. Alita herself is a work of art, a fully-CGI character whose huge eyes and intricately-designed cyborg body is pretty much a love letter to the character she's based on. It would have been easy to change her design to suit millennial tastes, but that would have been anathema to a perfectionist like James Cameron, who has been working to bring Alita to the big screen for the past 15 goddamn years.


The action is stylish and slick with oil and blood...the exact kind that director Robert Rodriguez is known for. His work in Grindhouse and Sin City made him the perfect fit for this grungy cyberpunk world, and he directs the battles in Alita with the finesse of a ballet instructor. Every fight is a dance of blood, flesh, and steel, and you will often find yourself gripping that cinema armrest just a little too tight whenever fisticuffs erupt (which they often do).

However, Alita suffers from the same problems that dogged films like Iron Man 2, in that their need to set up future films overpowered the need to tell a complete story. The Big Bad Vector (played by Mahershala Ali) is practically nonexistent for most of the movie, and the farther in you go, the more evident it is that you questions about the URM, Zalem, and even Alita herself won't be answered until the next movie (whenever that is), to the point that Alita Battle Angel comes to a screeching halt just when it was starting to get interesting. I suppose that's the problem with adapting a story better told in serialized form, but Rodriguez and co. pour a lot of passion in between the gaps that it's almost forgivable.

Alita Battle Angel is proof that adapting a manga or anime works as long as you put a lot of love into it. Don't believe the haters. Alita Battle Angel is an exhilarating time at the movies, and definitely worth the decade-long wait.
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