Film Review - ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL

What happens when you amalgamate the sensibilities of an iconic indie director and a revolutionary storyteller to adapt a futuristic Manga property? Well, you get the sci-fi actioner, ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL. So the question then becomes: is the final product worth the price of admission? 

Sadly no, but let me explain further why this is the unfortunate case. Adapted to script by award-winning screenwriter, James Cameron, and directed by award-winning filmmaker, Robert Rodriguez, the film follows the title heroine who finds herself not knowing who or what she is. However, as the story progresses, the film provides more or more details to answer this question. Now, considering the parties mentioned above and the story's origins hailing from the awesome world of Manga, this film - on paper - would seem like a no-brainer; however, due to some heavy CGI, poorly executed pacing & world building it falls far short of what it could have been.

CGI

This is undoubtedly the biggest strength that the film has going for it, which is thanks in large part to the visual effects house known as WETA - an effects company known for its prior work in films such as LORD OF THE RINGS and AVATAR. Thanks to the efforts of this award-winning effects team, the character of Alita functions impressively alongside her co-stars, especially in the performance-heavy scenes - which translates the performance of actress, Rosa Salazar, to the motion-captured character. The only gripe I found with the film's CGI were those featured in the film's sequences involving the brutal sport of Motorball. In these instances, for example, the effects looked  too "video-gamey" or unreal.

Story/World-Building

As mentioned above, the character of Alita was adapted from the long-running Manga character of the same name. As a result, Alita and the world that she inhabits has many diverse factions, locales, and charcaters to relay to the audience. Unfortunately, due to the medium that the character has been adapted in, there's not a lot of time for the story to properly explain certain things. As a result, you get: characters who regurgitate scores and scores of exposition, characters who are quickly introduced and disposed, and places referenced but not explicitly seen (see Zolum, a place likely being saved for a sequel that might not ever come). Because of these issues, many of the talented ensemble (Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, and Mahershala Ali, to name a few) are wasted and are not truly allowed to be fleshed out as three-dimensional characters.

Pacing

In summing up my minor gripe with the CG sequences and my overall issues with the story, comes my other gripe: the film's pacing. Due to the film's uneven use of relevant story beats vs easter eggs (i.e. info that only fans would recognize), it frequently runs into moments where important info (for non-fans) is often sacrificed for the sake of mentioning something "cool" for the fans or showing a big action sequence.

Now, while I love action as much as the next person, when it is not driven by story and seems to just be there for action's sake, it comes across as kind of dull and/or empty.  So with all of that said, ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL, is an actioner that, despite its impressive effects, is a shallow shell of what it could have been.

Grade: D+

ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL arrives in theaters on February 14, 2019.

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