ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL – A Review by Gadi Elkon

From visionary filmmakers James Cameron (AVATAR) and Robert Rodriguez (SIN CITY), comes ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL, an epic adventure of hope and empowerment.

Here is my full review of the film.

When Alita (Rosa Salazar) awakens with no memory of who she is in a future world she does not recognize, she is taken in by Ido (Christoph Waltz), a compassionate doctor who realizes that somewhere in this abandoned cyborg shell is the heart and soul of a young woman with an extraordinary past. As Alita learns to navigate her new life and the treacherous streets of Iron City, Ido tries to shield her from her mysterious history while her street-smart new friend Hugo (Keean Johnson) offers instead to help trigger her memories. But it is only when the deadly and corrupt forces that run the city come after Alita that she discovers a clue to her past – she has unique fighting abilities that those in power will stop at nothing to control. If she can stay out of their grasp, she could be the key to saving her friends, her family and the world she’s grown to love.

Alita: Battle Angel is the decades long adaptation of Yukito Kishiro’s beloved Japanese Manga series.  Cameron first came across the epic graphic novel back when he was making his Terminator films in the 80s.  The chance to showcase a strong female lead has been a staple throughout Cameron’s career and after his technological advances from Titanic to Avatar this unique tale became possible.  Add in the bold nature of Robert Rodriguez and this story finally had a legit chance to transform from page to screen.  One element that Alita does magically is that the team decided on motion capture over total green screen.  Actress Rosa Salazar’s voice and movements are the reality behind the incredible cyborg you’ll witness in the film.  DP Bill Pope brings such a wide array of larger world elements and still keeps things so intimate with each character.  Rodriquez’ push to make sure the actors were really there and that the streets of Iron City are a legit set makes this film transcend past Cameron’s visionary Avatar.  The visual reality that is showcased, especially on an IMAX or 3d screen, expands this into such an entertaining journey.  The fluid world that Kishiro’s series depicted finally has a worthy film version with this motion-captured success.  Just as Lord of the Rings or the Planet of the Apes series allowed motion captured characters to thrive so to does Alita:  Battle Angel.

Plot wise the film does have some hiccups.  The love story is the most simplistic and slightly awkward with the more youthful figure of Alita compared to her love interest Hugo.  Luckily the film relies on more of the connection between father figure IDO and the father/daughter passion is a major theme throughout.  The villain on top of villain is given a really unique figure in the ultimate bad guy isn’t someone who is fully immersed in this movie.  Obviously, the hope is that this movie will do really well and sequels can further expand on Kishiro’s overall story.  Mahershala Ali seems a bit to underused, but Jennifer Connelly’s character has a really nice arc.  Ed Skrein seems to relish every second he’s on-screen and becomes a real favorite.  Rodriguez and Cameron do share a lot of similar choices to previous bad ass Sci-Fi films like The Matrix, Blade Runner, and even Arnold’s Running Man.  The usage of an advanced sport is directly lifted from the King novel and 80’s film.  Granted the real ability to create a divide between the haves and the have-nots is the true overall struggle that should be fully explored and tackled.  Ultimately I was most fearful the plot would be a let down but I can admit that the tale does hold up throughout.  It may lean a bit more to a younger sensibility, but with the lead being such a youthful figure (she is MUCH older in reality!) actually seems to work.

The love of the film will come down to the nice ratio of violent action to the slow burn of a coming-of-age story.  Rodriguez films never lack enough violence to not entertain and his ability to blow shit up is super important to the overall enjoyability.  It’s simple, this little girl cyborg is a bad ass and she should resonate with young girls.  Imagine HANNA but as a cyborg who secretly knows a long forgotten martial arts.  Cameron shared a really interesting take on the lead character that Kishiro told him when they first met over 20 years ago.  Cameron looked at Alita as Joan of Arc leading an army to rebellion.  Kishiro reminded Cameron that Alita is not a leader but instead closer to a Ronin or lone warrior.  Her actions may allow for her to kick everyone’s ass but her inner war causes casualties to pile up.  I won’t spoil who gets the Ax, but the Ronin is ultimately a lone figure.  Our Battle Angel may well end up the only one standing when this film series concludes.  She is not Neo or Joan of Arc.

I do want to point out a few issues about the film.  The casting does have a nice diversity in Salazar being our lead.  But Mr. Ido, Hugo and all the other characters not having more of a reflection on Kishiro’s Japanese characters is a bit odd.  I won’t say this screams of the slightly racial issues that Avatar was blamed to have, but the question has to be asked about who should be cast.  Blind casting should be the norm, but when the characters are an obvious race it would be nice to see some proper representation.  Granted I feel like this movie certainly isn’t looking to “white wash” but I digress.   I think the image of a female lead should shine much brighter regardless of her skin tone.

Alita: Battle Angel should be the second major blockbuster of 2019 along with that wacky 2nd Lego movie.

 

Directed by Robert Rodriguez

Based on the graphic novels by Yukito Kishiro, Screenplay by Robert Rodriguez, James Cameron and Laeta Kalogridis

Rated PG-13

Selig Rating B

Running Time 2hr 2min

Action, Romance, Sci-Fi

Out Now

Starring: Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Ed Skrein, Jackie Earle Haley, Keean Johnson, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Lana Condor, Rick Yune, and Idara Victor

 

The Selig Rating Scale:

A – Excellent movie, well worth the price.

B – Good movie

C – OK movie

D – No need to rush. Save it for a rainy day.

F – Good that I saw it on the big screen but wish I hadn’t paid for it.