Director: Robert Rodriguez
Cast: Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Ed Skrein, Jackie Earle Haley, Keean Johnson
Screenplay: James Cameron, Laeta Kalogridis
122 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language.
It would be incredibly hard to market a film like Alita: Battle Angel. Like Speed Racer a decade ago, the film is like a living anime, not something easily sellable in two minutes. There was immediate discussion about the main character’s appearance, as she had two large, cartoonish eyes. Many wondered if it was possible to view her as a relatable character when she looked so toony. I was concerned about that as well. Thank goodness that is not the case.
In Iron City, scientist Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained, Downsizing) finds a destroyed cyborg with a working brain. He fixes it up, brings it back to life without any memory of her past, and gives her a name. Now, this cyborg, Alita (Rosa Salazar, Bird Box, Maze Runner: The Death Cure), is actively trying to learn more about her world, and she befriends Hugo (Keean Johnson, Heritage Falls, TV’s Spooksville), a young man who dreams of rising out of Iron City into the floating sky city above them, Zalem. In her travels, Alita finds that her past is one of great importance, and she embarks on a journey of self-discovery, all the while being hunted by other nefarious cyborgs.
For starters, let’s talk about Alita. Rosa Salazar owns this role and this film. For a cyborg, her performance is incredibly human. She is a playful child in some ways as she rediscovers the world, and the emotions that exist within it. As far as the CG facial work, it’s hardly noticeable. It lends to a unique character, and it works quite well. After the first few moments, I found myself not even realizing that I was seeing CG and I just became lost in the character.
The supporting cast is mostly filled with talented work, but some performers, like Mahershala Ali (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, TV’s True Detective) as Vector, the criminal entrepreneur, and Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind, Only the Brave) as Dr. Chiren, Ido’s ex-wife, are given little to nothing to really do in the movie. Ali and Connelly do fine work with what their given, but it just isn’t enough to create the memorable characters both are capable of, and especially considering Ali’s most recent success with Moonlight and Green Book, it feels wasted.
Then there’s Hugo. I didn’t like Hugo as a character. I didn’t like the way he was written and I didn’t like the way he was portrayed. I didn’t like his lack of chemistry with Alita. It’s frustrating when he’s on film because I get what is being attempted, but it just never really hits.
Where director Robert Rodriguez (El Mariachi, Machete Kills) truly wins here is his knack for understanding and showcasing spectacle, something Alita: Battle Angel explodes with. Both Rodriguez and screenwriter James Cameron understand the spectacle of a true cinematic experience, and that’s what is accomplished with Alita. I just had so much fun in this true theater-going adventure, and it looks better than just about anything out there right now. It’s the kind of thing I’m looking forward to in the Avatar sequels, the sense of wild and incredible visual candy, and that’s what I got here.
Alita: Battle Angel stumbles with a few characters, but it’s also unlike anything I’ve seen on screen before. Director Robert Rodriguez swings for the fences, and it mostly works really well. This is the kind of film that begs for a sequel to further explore the world, the mythology, and the characters, and it may not get that, which is a true shame because Alita: Battle Angel did a lot of heavy lifting here, and it left me wanting more in the best possible way. Seek this one out on the biggest screen you can.
-Kyle A. Goethe
For my review of Robert Rodriguez’s The Faculty, click here.
For my review of Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller, and Quentin Tarantino’s Sin City, click here.
For my review of Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, click here.