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Review: Alita: Battle Angel (2019)

Alita: Battle Angel (2019)

Directed by: Robert Rodriguez

Premise: An adaptation of the manga comic book. Taking place in the 26th Century, a cyborg is found in a scrap heap and brought back to life. She cannot remember her past but Alita discovers that she has lethal abilities. 

What Works: What’s most impressive about Alita: Battle Angel is its production design and craftsmanship. The movie takes place in a post-apocalyptic world in which the distinction between people and robots has blurred; many of the characters are human beings with mechanical appendages and others have mostly robotic bodies with a human head attached. The story world is impressively detailed as are the characters within it. The digital and physical elements of this movie blend together seamlessly. The title character is especially impressive. Alita is adapted from manga comics, which have a very specific visual style, and the filmmakers translate that style from animation to live action filmmaking in a way that resembles the manga source while achieving credible proportions and texture. The character of Alita is a product of motion capture performance. With her oversized eyes and synthetic skin, Alita is not human but there is a humanity within her character, and Alita avoids the uncanny valley look that’s so common to motion capture characters. The key advantage of motion capture is the way it retains the subtitles of the actor’s performance and Rosa Salazar’s emotions come through and give Alita a vivid personhood. The action sequences of Alita: Battle Angel are also impressive. The fights and chases are kinetic and full of energy and achieve a palatable physicality despite so much of the action being digital.

What Doesn’t: The story of Alita: Battle Angel is a bit of a mess. The tale of this young cyborg woman learning who she is ought to be enough to carry the movie but that journey of self-discovery is crowded out by a lot of other subplots. The story diverges into different ideas and occasionally flashes backward to moments from Alita’s past. These parts don’t fit together and the story world and many of the characters are underdeveloped. In a few broad strokes, the filmmakers explain this world and how these people fit into it but the action is hobbled by a lack of stakes. There’s a lot of fighting but it isn’t clear what anyone is fighting for and what will be won or lost as a result. It doesn’t help that a lot of the elements of Alita are futuristic and post-apocalyptic clichés. Several elements of Alita: Battle Angel are drawn from other movies such as Robocop and Rollerball where they were done better.

Bottom Line: Alita: Battle Angel is well-produced but it is also derivative and unfocused. The film is sufficiently entertaining but it is ultimately an average sci-fi adventure.

Episode: #738 (February 24, 2019)