Alita: Battle Angel.
It’s been a rocky road for Alita. It’s got a major following because it’s based on a manga series but its initial trailers looked bad, at least bad enough to divide fans on what to expect. If the visuals here didn’t pan out, this whole movie would flounder. So was the final product polished enough to please audiences?
We’re in the far future, where the cities on the ground have become dumping grounds for major cities that float in the sky. Dr. Ido (Christoph Waltz) finds a cyborg in the dump pile and puts her back together, naming her Alita (Rosa Salazar). Alita doesn’t remember anything, so she slowly tries to remember who and what she is. She does this with the help of a young guy named Hugo (Keean Johnson). Ido’s ex-wife Chiren (Jennifer Connelly) finds out about Alita and reports back to a man named Vector (Mahershala Ali), who has some nefarious motives.
Alita runs into some dangerous enhanced killers along the journey, played by Ed Skrein, Jackie Earle Haley, and Eiza Gonzalez. We also get some weird cameos from Jai Courtney, Edward Norton, and a few scenes with Lana Condor (To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before).
Let me start by saying that it might be to this movie’s advantage that folks were hesitant. It set the bar low, making it easy to impress. And impress me, it did.
The worldbuilding on display here is perfect, showing us so much quickly with only a few nuggets of exposition. One of the first drafts of the screenplay was written by James Cameron, who has had to create many worlds before, so I expect he had a strong hand in that. Now, the visuals don’t always look great, but they look great in this world. Even when the villains look like video game characters, it still fits into this reality that they’ve created for us, so it manages to work.
It’s really Alita herself who steals the show though, played by Rosa Salazar (Maze Runners, CHIPS, Bird Box). Salazar performed while wearing motion-capture technology, so Alita is entirely CGI but it’s good enough that I had to look that up. Her trademark eyes are huge but the rest of her face and body had me questioning what was real. Not only does she look great but Alita is an insanely interesting character and is very likable, in addition to being a complete badass.
The fight sequences here are amazing, though way over the top. Sit back and enjoy, because it gets wild, especially a major battle towards the climax with like eight killers competing to kill Alita first. These sequences are great, well worth paying for a premium showing.
What doesn’t work?
There are a few too many characters here, meaning some get very little to do. And unfortunately the biggest victim in that regard is Mahershala Ali, who only gets a few scenes but is somehow labeled as the big bad of the movie (and really, it’s more complicated than that, without spoiling it). He doesn’t get much to do or much range to showcase, compared to the Oscar-caliber performances we’ve seen from him.
And above I talked about the visual effects working for me, but I know some of you might balk at the visuals and immediately become disengaged. I’d challenge you to watch the actual film before judging because it felt to me like there were some additional layers of polish added in to make everything look a ton better than the trailers would lead you to believe.
I had a great time with Alita: Battle Angel, probably because my expectations were low. The world is interesting, the fight sequences enthralling, and Alita herself is a really intriguing character and one I hope we see more from. The biggest disappointment is how little Mahershala Ali gets to do, a waste of his talent. If you want an adrenaline-fueled sci-fi adventure, this should do the trick for you.