Movie Review: Alita: Battle Angel
I have to be honest here. If it’s not because of James Cameron’s name adorning the poster of Alita: Battle Angel, there is a high chance that I’m going to skip that film, given that there are other more appealing titles currently being screened out there. Because, let’s face it, not a lot of moviegoers will be particularly interested in a manga-based movie about a girl cyborg with oversized eyes and ass-kicking abilities. Heck, even Scarlett Johansson couldn’t save the iconic Ghost in the Shell (2017) from bombing.
However, somehow, Cameron’s name inspires confidence, that, it is such an example of good branding. It is widely known that Cameron’s previous works has been a collection of masterpieces, and couple that fact with the extremely well received effects-powerhouse Avatar (2009), people tend to keep coming back for more of his artwork.
In contrast, unlike Ghost in the Shell, there’s no presence of a curvy body of ScarJo’s to become the candy to your eyes anymore. Instead, Alita is just a skinny, rebuilt Cyborg girl who has zero memory of her past. Director Robert Rodriguez kept the sex appeal in check for this one, which is a rare and applaudable move. Instead of entirely played by Rosa Salazar, the crew has taken the route of motion capture to give Alita’s face the manga-like proportions (huge eyes, miniature mouth), which placed the film one step further away from being just another plain (read: lazy) live adaptation movie of a Japanese manga.
Christoph Waltz lends his charm in becoming Dr Dyson Ido, the robo-surgeon who gives Alita her second reboot. Quite a surprise if you ask me. I was so used to seeing Christoph Waltz in villainous characters, and out of a sudden, having to see him as a very much fatherly figure to Alita requires my brain to be re-wired a little. Elsewhere, Jennifer Connelly plays Dr Chiren, Ido’s ex-wife and Mahershala Ali performed as Vector, the top-dog of “Motorball”, with the latter being a fusion of Death Race, cyborgs, and American football.
If we have to make a fair comparison, the first half of the film answers more questions than second. The beginning of the plot seems to be very energetic and anxious to let you know how Iron City became the state it is today, as if the audience is as clueless and naive as Alita herself, at least at the beginning point. Just sit back and let the amazing visuals and imagination play tricks with your mind while you explore Iron City together with Alita, while the dark side of the city and some surfaced mystery creeps in.
As soon as Alita lands her first punch , and I assume that you will have adequately warmed up by then, the action starts coming in relentlessly. And boy, the string of action packed scenes never seems to ease off. If I haven’t repeated myself, those are very, very thrilling and addictive to watch. The motions are fast. Precise. Accurate. Just like anything engineered in Germany. The name of the moves are equally catchy. Panzer Kunst, a lost art of fighting reserved only for the finest.. warriors. I’m convinced that Alita would have spent most of her previous life training in Shaolin to pull off moves like that.
Some might argue that, hey, you’re looking at 90% of VFX in most of the action-explosive scenes, especially the ones taking place in Motorball. While that holds true, it still packs a whole lot of punch, even to VFX-saturated eyes like mine. And I should also suggest that, though the scenes are captured in lightning quick pace, never at once it felt overwhelmingly fake-ish, perhaps due to the fact that the crew never went overboard to stretch the limits of physics.
On top of that, Alita almost never shortchange you of any VFX trickery, as there are no sign that any corners are cut in the effects department. Yes, those that you will see are marvelous, marvelous VFX, and it’s an undeniable rewind to all the goodness of Avatar. Seldomly details are blurred out in the name of shallow camera angle, and each character, cyborg, buildings, are paraded to you in great detail that, it all boils down to the absorbing capacity of your eyes. For those who have watched, I’m pretty sure you will remember the scene where the ‘competitors’ line up with Alita during her maiden Motorball game. I think I need to watch the scene 3 times to fully digest the details of each cyborg’s weapons, armor, etc. I hugely suspect that the overall budget of the film will be eye-popping due to this mega effort, though I haven’t made any proper investigation on this matter.
As the film propelled towards the final act, things slightly got caught up into push-pull melodrama and romance, it began to work the other way round. The great irony is, because Alita is a cyborg that can generate massive feelings and emotion, the film is by far the warmest anime inspired movie that I can ever find. Thanks to the fatherly figure character of Christoph Waltz and his talent, the relationship of Alita and Dr Ido goes way more than surface deep, and the use of motion capture technology completed this equation. Behind the cartoonish proportions of Alita’s face, is a haunting performance by Rosa Salazar.
I suspect that the drama-heavy final act may be due to the trajectory of the story-line plucked from the manga itself (as with Dr Ido’s hilarious weapon), but being a mere human myself, and having being fed with so much octane during the first half, I just couldn’t pull the brakes. I felt as if I have been fed with some drugs, and now I’m craving for it, they stop the supply. It’s an uneasy feeling nevertheless, but I have only that glorious first half of the movie to blame.
And to contribute even more to this uneasiness, the resolve of the film is not what I had actually hoped for. As such, by the end of the film, I was left pulling my hair, but filled with amazement (is there such a thing?), and to prevent you from going though the hair-pulling part, it’s wise for me to divulge to you in advance; yes, there will be a sequel to Alita: Battle Angel
Addict Verdict, AV:
Alita: Battle Angle may easily be the most visually impressive film of 2019 yet, and undoubtedly the best manga-based film to date. It is such a VFX powerhouse, that it may seem like the crew was working without any budget restriction in the making of those effects. Zappy battle scenes interwoven with a rich plot make for a blasting ride throughout the film. Except that, the final resolve and the events that unfold right before that are virtually unimpressive and pale in comparison to the earlier section of the movie. You’ll get a feeling akin to coming out of a fine restaurant, still feeling hungry. But yet, in overall, it’s an electrifying experience worthy of your buck, and rightfully deserves a sequel — The Film Addict
*This review was originally published on The Film Addict