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Alita: Battle Angel – Movie Review

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Alita: Battle Angel – Movie Review

Rating: B+ (Very Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy 20th Century Fox

A large reason for the appeal of science-fiction is the world building that comes from crafting and designing entire concepts to be experienced on the page or on the big screen. Adapting Yukito Kishiro’s Japanese manga about a sentient robot, the filmmakers behind Alita: Battle Angel manage to transport the viewer to this future full of human-looking androids and all sorts of stunning visuals. Director Robert Rodriguez, working on by far his biggest budget to date, is clearly enjoying all of the shiny toys he has been given to play with. However, beyond the amazing effects, there is also a story with genuine heart that allows Alita to be something a bit more memorable than your standard CG-filled spectacle.

The title character Alita is probably one of the most complex motion-captured creations to hit the screen. Rodriguez and the visual effects team, along with actress Rosa Salazar, have to make us believe this big-eyed robot is standing there and conveying the necessary emotions. Thankfully, it doesn’t take long at all to see her as a robot walking through the city and interacting with its human citizens. The uncanny valley is non-existent and shows how tirelessly the pros at WETA Digital have been working on advancing the art of motion-capture since Gollum crawled across the screen in The Two Towers. The movie’s cyborgs, combining human actors with strange metal parts, are impressive achievements, too. However, Alita is the star.

The film’s story manages to work, with a genuine father-daughter story. Alita goes through a proper growth and character development through the course of Battle Angel that allows the viewer to understand what she is going through. Christoph Waltz plays a role rather different from his usual on-screen personalities, essentially the Gepetto to Alita’s Pinocchio. He functions as our introduction to this world and while he is saddled with a bit of exposition, it never feels like we’re just being fed information on a continuous basis. There’s also a nice bond shared between Alita and Keean Johnson’s Hugo and while there is a bit of a romantic connection, it’s not a forced love story nor does it become the focal point of them teaming up.

Rodriguez throws in plenty of action, all of which is marvelously directed. The fight choreography is impressive, especially when different robots and cyborgs go head-to-head. The big centerpiece is an arena sport that’s like a more deranged and metallic version of Rollerball. Rodriguez and director of photography Bill Pope take full advantage of the space as the androids skate across the stadium and there’s never a point where it becomes disorienting or hard to follow. With the emphasis on Alita, Hugo and Waltz’s Dr. Ido, the villains do get sidelined a bit. Mahershala Ali only pops in on occasion to appear menacing and while Jennifer Connelly has an emotional backstory accompanying her, she’s not in the film enough to leave an impression.

The most striking aspect of Alita: Battle Angel is the impressive achievement of bringing its title character to life on the screen. With James Cameron onboard as a writer and producer, you’re bound to get some incredible visuals. However, Rodriguez also makes the project his own and gives it a beating heart, so there is personal investment in the characters beyond how amazing they look. While it is based on pre-existing source material, Alita is the kind of world-building science-fiction spectacle that stands out from the pack and shows a Hollywood occasionally willing to take chances on ambitious and risky projects.

Stefan Ellison

Stefan Ellison