Well, it’s about God-damned time.
For those of you that don’t know, this movie has had something of a troubled history. Technically, this movie was announced as far back as 2000. That’s about the time when James Cameron acquired the rights to make the movie. In fact, Cameron’s TV show DARK ANGEL (2000 – 2002) was influenced by the Alita comics. It was set to be his next movie after the show ended, then after his documentary ALIENS OF THE DEEP (2005), but then somehow, Cameron got engorged with his Avatar movies and has committed to them ever since, forcing his Alita movie to be put on hold. According to what I’ve looked up, Cameron was supposed to produce two trilogies, one Avatar, the other, Alita. But then Cameron got involved with another documentary, pushing Alita back again in 2009, despite the script being completed by this point. At least, so it’s been said. Basically, from 2010 and on, Cameron had been constantly saying that he wants to make the movie, he loves it, but he’s just didn’t when it would get made due to his commitment to the Avatar movies. He was even quoted saying, “Battle Angel (the original title) is not going to happen for a few years”.
Boy howdy, was he not kidding!
2017 was when production was set to begin, but the project wasn’t even greenlit by Fox in 2016, which eventually changed, and now we all know the history here. ALITA was scheduled for a July 2018 release, but then got pushed to December 2018, and then pushed back AGAIN until February 2019, where it’s finally resting and people can finally see it. Christ almighty, I’ve got a headache just from writing all this down. I can’t imagine how Cameron must feel. He’s been sitting on this project for nearly twenty years.
The story looks like it’s about a cybernetic young woman who discovers that she’s more than just any other cyborg and is actually made of some old, but powerful technology that doesn’t really exist anymore. When she’s discovered, she is then hunted by forces who want her for unknown reasons.
Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Rosa Salazar (Maze Runner SCORCH  and CURE , and CHIPS ), Christoph Waltz (DOWNSIZING , TARZAN , and SPECTRE ), Keean Johnson (stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of, and upcoming films MIDWAY  and EMPORER ), Mahershala Ali (SPIDER-VERSE , MOONLIGHT , HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY 2 , and PREDATORS ), and Jennifer Connolly (ONLY THE BRAVE , AMERICAN PASTORAL , and the upcoming TOP GUN: MAVERICK ).
In support, we have Ed Skrein (BEALE STREET , DEADPOOL , TRANSPORTER 4 , and upcoming films MIDWAY and MALEFICENT 2 ), Jackie Earle Haley (DARK TOWER  and BIRTH/NATION ), Casper Van Dien (STARSHIP TROOPERS: TRAITOR OF MARS , and the upcoming REAL TALK ), Eiza González (MARWEN , BABY DRIVER , JEM , and upcoming films HOBBS & SHAW  and SHE’S MISSING ), and Rick Yune (OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN ).
Now for the crew. Directing and co-writing, we have Robert Rodriguez, known for SIN CITY (2005), SPY KIDS (2001), and upcoming films RED 11 (2019) and 100 YEARS (2115). Rodriguez’s co-writers, making for a red flag total of three writers, we also have James Cameron (AVATAR , TERMINATOR 2 , RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II , THE TERMINATOR , and the upcoming AVATAR 2 ) and Laeta Kalogridis (TERMINATOR GENISYS  and BIRDS OF PREY [2002 – 2003]). Composing the score is Junkie XL, known for MORTAL ENGINES (2018), DARK TOWER, BATMAN V SUPERMAN (2016), and MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015). The cinematographer is Bill Pope, known for KID/KING (2019), BABY DRIVER, JUNGLE BOOK (2016), MEN IN BLACK 3 (2012), and the upcoming CHARLIE’S ANGELS (2019). Finally, co-editing are Stephen E. Rivkin (FANT4STIC , AVATAR, and the upcoming AVATAR 2) and Ian Silverstein (stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of).
Overall, I’m looking forward to this flick. I really enjoy the visual style. It looks like a cinematic trailer for a AAA video game. I know it’s live-action, but it still looks awesome. I know the movie itself may not be great, this year’s MORTAL ENGINES, if I had a guess. Ambitious, admirably so, but not a good movie as a whole. But who knows? Last year was a fun year for critic and audience rivalries, so who knows where this one lies.
This is my honest opinion of: ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL
300 years ago, a terrible war simply known as “The Fall” ravaged the world. Where once floating cities were everywhere, now only the last of the regal cities remains: Zalem.
Set the distant future of 2563, in slummy Iron City. Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz) is an expert on cybernetic limbs and has recently come across the severed head of a young cybernetic girl in the giant trash yard near Iron City. He gives her a body that he previously built, she wakes up with no memories of who she, but is given the name, Alita (Rosa Salazar). As she learns about life in Iron City, she ends up falling for a local young man named Hugo (Keean Johnson), becomes enamored with the local sport, Motorball, ran by the local crime kingpin Vector (Mahershala Ali), and even learns of Iron City’s main source of “law enforcement,” the Hunter-Warriors; cyborg bounty hunters who track down criminals for money. One night, Alita learns that Dyson is a human Hunter-Warrior himself, but after being ambushed by a trio of cyborgs looking for revenge, led by the hulking Grewishka (Jackie Earle Haley), Alita saves him and proves to be a skilled warrior herself, killing two of the cyborgs, and forcing Grewishka to retreat. As Alita’s skills grow and learns more about herself and her past, she begins to bring attention to her that goes far beyond the streets of Iron City.
Yup, I got exactly what I expected and wanted. I got a movie that wasn’t great, but was cool. Whatever you think of it, it’s far and away a better GHOST IN THE SHELL.
So I’m going to gush about what I was really looking forward to, and that’s the visuals and the action. Both steal the show. While certainly the “Blade Runner” cyberpunk world is nothing new or even all that special anymore, making Iron City an admittedly bland setting, what sets this movie apart from the rest is just how balls to the wall insane the cyborg people are. This movie pulls no punches and everyone looks pretty distinguished. You have one cyborg woman that has scythes for hands, Grewishka with his fingers that elongate and can be swung around like thick-ass whips, and Zapan (Ed Skrein), who has this gorgeously haunting exoskeleton with all these cool etchings and a particularly douchie metallic soul patch. Seriously, Skrein plays an asshole almost too well! And almost to the point where you wish he were the main character! Oh… right, his one Transporter movie. Er… his character from DEADPOOL as the main character of a movie. Anyway, the action’s great and the aesthetics of the cyborgs are awesome, which is all I needed for this movie to carry me through.
I remember reading how the critics didn’t like how this movie alluded to future movies. First of all… strange complaint, seeing as how most blockbusters do just that, but I think I understand the spirit of the problem. They’re likely referring to how BATMAN V SUPERMAN focused too much on setting up future movies instead of focusing on its own, resulting in a messy movie. However, I will argue and say that this movie alludes to a future movie like EMPIRE STRIKES BACK does. The movie makes it clear that there’s a shadowy overlord controlling all the bad shit that’s happening in Iron City, but doesn’t give us anything more beyond that. It balances itself out to a degree that we know enough, but not too much, and it feels organic to the story, rather than just forced into it. So color me excited, I want to see a follow-up.
And this isn’t a negative or a positive, just poking a little fun here, but… Bethesda, make your money back from FALLOUT 76 and sue this movie for ripping off the Super Sledge! I’m barely kidding! Dyson carries around a comically oversized hammer thing that has a rocket boost at the end of it to give it more power. Also, I would have loved to see this movie have an R-rating. The violence and gore would be delicious.
But yeah, let’s get objective here and mention the less-than-stellar stuff.
The first major problem that I had with the flick is the relationship between Alita and Dyson. While anyone under these circumstances can easily identify with being protective of this girl who doesn’t quite know how the world works anymore, the fact that he almost instantaneously starts acting like a father toward her is… off. And to make matters worse, the initial body that Alita is given was supposed to be given to his now-dead daughter. Well, okay, that one’s not so bad. It’d just be gathering dust in the closet, right? Well… how about giving her the name of his now-dead daughter. Yeah! Shocker of shocks, Dyson names Alita after his daughter! Mmph… boy, someone needs to see a shrink in the near future because that’s just creepy. Coupling this with the fact that he’s already acting like her father, it’s a wonder why Alita didn’t get the hell out of dodge. Even the movie comments on this later. Of course, the movie picks this up eventually and their relationship grows on you, but I can easily see this ruining the film in some way for a lot of people.
Soon following this misstep is the romantic subplot between Alita and Hugo. This is arguably the lesser of the problematic relationships in the movie, as the mutual romance isn’t equalized until later, as it’s primarily Alita with the feelings, but the fact that she immediately has these feelings is contrived. Because that’s how women work. Save her life, and the panties immediately drop for him. Bleh… thankfully Hugo keeps things honest for awhile. But even when the romance becomes mutual, the dialog is pretty damn cheesy. Surprisingly, I’m not even referring to the corny-as-hell line, “I’d give you my heart” as there is context for the line that gives it some deeper meaning. The line itself is still, of course, corny-as-hell, but it’s not as bad as you might think.
I also kind of wish that the “first instinct is to fight” thing with Alita was built up with at least one scene. Like, I don’t know, she’s watching an old Bruce Lee movie, or watching some martial artist on the street, not just raising her dukes against a Centurion.
And let’s be honest, because the writing is so subpar in this movie, and characters get very little emotional connection, you’re bound to meet a couple characters who are completely useless to the overall narrative. Personally, I think the cardinal sin in this regard is Jennifer Connelly as Chiren. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love Connelly. I think as soon as she comes on screen in any movie, I’m immediately interested in everything (HULK not withstanding). But when I see Connelly on screen, I want her to have a huge impact. Remorsefully, her character is completely useless. Chiran shows up to let the audience know that she was once married to Dyson, was the mother to their child, now she bonks Vector, and… has dreams of returning to Zalem. Um… congrats? Sure, she does one thing to help out toward the end, <<<SPOILERS – highlight to reveal>>> [ but even that doesn’t amount to a whole lot. She helps Alita save Hugo’s life by severing his head and hooking it up to Alita’s heart and giving him a cyborg body. But this lasts a whole five minutes because the next time we see Hugo, it’s one scene… and he ends up dying anyway. Oh, and she dies around this time too. Way to make Connelly useless, movie! ] <<<END SPOILERS>>>
Honestly, a lot of the problems with this movie are the ones that encompass Connelly. Everyone is bland. Hugo is basically a rejected Disney princess who dreams of something more than this provincial life. Seriously, he’s one song and dance number away from being Belle. <<<SPOILERS>>> [ Sure, he works for Vector by ripping off cybernetic parts from other cyborgs, but again, it’s just standard shock value with very little weight behind it. And you know how this shit is going to play out. It’s the “liar reveal” set-up, where Alita finds out and has to come grips with it or not. Even that isn’t done well because he’s stabbed by Zapan too quickly to allow Alita to really know what to do about it and then the situation is dropped pretty quickly. ] <<<END SPOILERS>>> And despite Waltz being a great actor, he’s mostly just spouting exposition and being a creepy surrogate father.
Even though Ali is a tremendous actor and his charisma certainly carries his own scenes, the truth is Vector isn’t all that intimidating either. <<<SPOILERS>>> [ We already know that he has no intention to send either Hugo or Chiren to Zalem. Also, he never seems to do his own dirty work, always hiring henchmen to do shit, so why should I be threatened by him? His eventual death almost makes too much sense for how easy it was for Alita. ] <<<END SPOILERS>>>
Even the story isn’t all that easy to follow. Because the script feels like earlier drafts got mixed in with others, one would think that the movie would be about how Alita’s heart, which is such powerful tech that it could “power Iron City for years,” that this would be the reason why everyone’s after her. But… no, everyone just seems to want her dead. No one’s got their own ideas how to use her heart for their own agendas. I don’t know, something was off with their motivations. Not enough focus on the whats and whys.
Despite Alita’s fun and sometimes adorable personality, how does she quickly sign up for to be a Hunter-Warrior and immediately think that she can rally an army to fight against Grewishka? Ballsy, but stupid and not surprising when no one takes her seriously. Though I have to admit, that was probably the coolest and most awesome bar fight I’ve ever seen.
And who outside of cartoons actually yells “Hiya!” anymore? And don’t give me shit about “CGI is just fancy animation,” f*** off with that shit, no one yells that. And she doesn’t even do it once. She does this at twice. Once was enough to bother me, you can bet twice would too.
Overall, it’s pretty easy to see where everyone’s coming from. If you don’t like the film, totally understandable. The story doesn’t always make sense, most of the characters are bland, and there are definitely some spells of boredom. But if you’re like me and you actually kind of dig it, that’s also understandable. The movie has extraordinary all-out visuals and action, for what limits she was given in terms of the script, Salazar perfectly blends cute and innocent, as well as bad-ass. And give this movie credit, I would love to see the sequel. So it really depends where you set your expectations. This isn’t a movie that’s going to change the face of cinema, but it’s a cool waste of time. Saw it in Dolby Atmos and I had a blast. I’ve heard that 3D makes it worse, so maybe some viewer beware on that front, but this needs great screen quality. Dolby Atmos or IMAX will do the trick. Beyond that, I like this movie. Not great, but fun and awesome.
My honest rating for ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL: 4/5
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