Based on the famous Manga Gunnm by Yukito Kishiro, Alita: Battle Angel follows the exploits of re-activated cyborg Alita and her quest to find out who she truly is. During this she also has to contend with the machinations of mad scientist Nova and his band of cyborg assassins.
Alita: Battle Angel has been a long time coming. A long time pet project of producer James Cameron (Avatar, Terminator 2: Judgement Day), it has taken nearly two decades to see it come to fruition. In that time, Cameron decided to focus all his time on making the Avatar sequels, so he ended up standing aside and handing the reigns over to cult film maker Robert Rodriguez.
At first, Rodriguez may seem a strange choice to replace one of Hollywood’s most famous directors, but he thankfully rises to the challenge, turning in what is probably his largest and most accomplished film to date.
However, he has clearly been influenced by his producer, as while he shows a sure hand with the action and sci-fi elements, the low budget inventiveness that he has shown in the past with the likes of Desperado (1995) and From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) is absent, being replaced with a professional sheen more in line with the works of Cameron.
Past Rodriguez films, he has been known to wear multiple hats during the production, with him not only directing but writing, editing, composing and being his own director of photography. With Alita: Battle Angel being so large scale, it is no surprise that he scales back on his duties, with him mainly focusing on the direction, although he did have a hand in the screenplay.
Working alongside legendary director of photography Bill Pope, Rodriguez manages to do a fine job of aping Cameron’s visual style throughout. The visual effects of WETA only contribute to this further. Visually, it would be hard to fault Alita: Battle Angel, as not only are the visuals first class but the many CGI characters and the world they inhabit are brilliantly realized.
Rodriguez has always shown a true talent for action, and whilst the action included in Alita: Battle Angel is vastly different from the likes of El Mariachi (1993), it is still of a high quality, with cyborg martial art “Panzer Kunst” being well realized. Some may be put off by the PG-13 rating of the film, but Alita: Battle Angel still manages to have a considerable level of violence during its action scenes, pushing the PG-13 rating to the limit.
Considering the cast is filled with the likes of award winners Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly and Mahershala Ali, it is the motion capture performance of Rosa Salazar in the title role that really stands out. Initially I was sceptical when I saw that the filmmakers had decided to go for the big eyed anime inspired look for the character, but after five minutes this becomes a non-issue, with Salazar’s fine work overcoming any initial trepidation I may have had.
Up to this point Salazar has probably been best known for her co-starring role in Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials (2015) and its sequel, Maze Runner: The Death Cure (2018). The release of Alita: Battle Angel will hopefully lead to bigger and better roles for the talented actress.
In addition to the main cast, the supporting cast is filled with a number of regular Rodriguez contributors. The likes of Jeff Fahey, Michelle Rodriguez, and Marko Zaror all show up in smaller roles.
Zaror, who had worked with Rodriguez previously on Machete Kills (2013) and the From Dusk Till Dawn (2014), may be underused, but it does give the actor more exposure in the West, which can only be a good thing. Perhaps this could lead to further work with Rodriguez, who seems to be a major fan of the martial artist.
The only real issue with Alita: Battle Angel is the script. Considering Cameron has been working on the film so long, the film is still filled with poor and cringe worthy dialogue. With this many years of experience, this level of writing should be behind Cameron, but here it still rears its head.
The same complaint could be leveled at the Anime adaptation released in 1993, but that did not have someone of the calibre of James Cameron behind it. I suppose it could be argued that no-one shows up to a James Cameron film to hear great dialogue.
Also, some of the blame could be laid at the feet of Rodriguez. As mentioned before he is listed as one of the film’s co-writers along with Laeta Kalogridis. Rodriguez reportedly worked on Cameron’s original script, paring it down to a manageable length. It is unknown at this time what scenes he went on to remove, but unfortunately the dialogue was not improved upon.
For a better example of Kalogridis’ writing, I would recommend the sci-fi series Altered Carbon (2018), which is currently on Netflix.
In the end, some cheesy dialogue is not enough to ruin your enjoyment of Alita: Battle Angel, as it is one of the better recent sci-fi/fantasy films to come from Hollywood that does not come under the Marvel banner.
Written by Guest Reviewer: Darren Murray (Facebook Profile)