Robots in fiction come in all shapes and sizes: From the adorable Wall-E, to the eerie Machine Man, to the terrifying Terminator. Few films, though, seem to set out to create a robot to generate the ‘Why boner’ feeling in its audience, or at least until today.
Alita: Battle Angel is based upon a wildly successful manga, later turned into an anime series simply titled Battle Angel. Now, I have neither watched nor read either of these and so went into the film entirely blind, besides knowing that it featured a robot with creepy anime eyes.
This means that I am not qualified to comment on Alita: Battle Angel as an adaptation, and so, no, I will not be pointing out how Alita’s cyber tits were the wrong color, or how Vector was 2 inches shorter than in the original. Instead, I will review it as your basic clueless audience member knowing nothing about the source material, since reading is hard and anime leads to living in your mother’s basement until at least your late 30s.
Alita: Battle Angel tells the story of a post-apocalyptic world, where a catastrophic war against the Mars colony led to all of Earth’s major cities, who now fly in the air for some undoubtedly stupid reason, being destroyed, bar one. Now, the remnants of Earth’s population not lucky enough to live on the air-city reside on the scraps beneath it, dreaming of ascending to the utopia above.
Our protagonist is Alita, an old advanced cyborg with amnesia found in a rubbish tip beneath. Doctor Dyson Ido, played by Christoph Waltz, finds and repairs her. The rest of the film follows Alita as she discovers the world around her, falls in love, becomes a violent murderer and then participates in a disappointing ending.
So, let’s start with what’s good about the film. The setting of Alita: Battle Angel looks amazing. The city really feels like a living, breathing place, and there is a lot of attention to detail in every scene to accomplish this. From people’s fashion to their vehicles to the shoddily made cyborgs wandering the streets. The special effects used to realize this are also pretty seamless, and it wasn’t long before I was fully immersed in the world of Alita: Battle Angel.
In fact, the visual presentation of the film is top-notch all-around. The fight scenes are well executed, with the choreography and cinematography complimenting each other well. Not once did I get bored or lose track of what was going on; surprising, since that usually happens in modern, overdone CGI fest cinema.
There were also some very good action set-pieces in the film, my favorite being an all-out brawl in a cyborg bounty hunter bar. The only effect I found rather iffy was Alita’s design. I’m sure we all recoiled in terror when the first trailer’s dropped and we saw the wide-eyed uncanny nightmare that was to be our protagonist. In the film itself, however, I soon got over her enormous eyes and largely forgot about them (though it is weird how nobody in the film ever comments on them). I’m not saying I like the design choice, but it wasn’t as bad as I expected. Still, Alita remained uncanny in other ways, her gums always seeming extremely weird whenever you could see them.
Alita: Battle Angel’s plot is an extremely simple and predictable one. From the first few scenes, I already knew what was going to happen, even down to predicting exact lines of dialogue that certain characters would say hours later. Now, while this may indicate that I am some form of seer, the more likely explanation is that the film is as stupid as a bag of one-to-one requiring bricks. This is not a bad thing, however. Some of my favorite films are absolute nonsense. I’m man enough to say that I enjoy Michael Bay’s The Rock, after all.
It is clear that the film is aiming for a very traditional narrative, with archetypal characters, a steady structure and nothing too shocking. Still, while your characters may be archetypal, they should still be interesting or likable. While Alita is endearing and Doctor Waltz are both decent enough (though Waltz stops having anything to do after a while), the love interest is entirely bland, Jennifer Connelly’s character is unconvincing, and the main antagonists are a budget bad Morpheus and a sack of meat with less personality. This stopped me from being quite as invested in Alita as I would have hoped for, despite me recognizing it as being a fun movie.
It’s a shame, as the performances themselves were never particularly bad. In fact, some of them were pretty good, with Jennifer Connelly standing out despite having basically no material to work with. The film is also a bit of a mess tonally. When it started, I thought I was watching a film for children, with its tween characters and basic story. By the time people were being decapitated and brutally murdered, I realized I was wrong.
Now, as I previously indicated, Alita: Battle Angel‘s plot does rather fall off the rails towards the end. It is all building to an ending where Alita will ascend on high to the upper city and cut up the evil tyrant ruling with an iron fist. However, in order to make way for a franchise, this is abruptly cut off in order to make way for a sequel. It really left me feeling unsatisfied, and I cannot see how an already thin story can be stretched into a follow-up.
Additionally, there were some other extremely bizarre choices, such as one character dying, being brought back only to die again about ten minutes later. Now, possibly this is what happens in the original manga, but when making an adaptation you have to make changes to ensure you are still making a satisfying product. No part of the ending accomplished this, and despite me enjoying most of the film on a fairly shallow level, it has put me off seeing the sequel.
I should probably briefly mention the music as well: It never bloody stops! It felt like I was watching a terrible American reality TV show at some points, as upbeat chipper music just seems to follow the characters around. The music was not bad in any way, it was just always there, like a guest overstaying their welcome. During the sadder scenes, the music just pulled me straight out of it. I think it contributed to the audience’s reaction as these scenes, as there were quite a few chuckles despite the music being heavily insistent that we should be contemplating suicide.
So, at the end of this review, I’m still not really sure if I would recommend Alita: Battle Angel. It is definitely a fun film, one that is definitely improved by going to see it in the cinema. I would say that most of the time I was enjoying myself watching it, and the audience around me also seemed to respond well. It is a well made film, as you would probably expect from director Robert Rodriguez, and I strongly got the impression that the people involved actually cared about the film they were making, sadly a rarity in Hollywood these days.
However, I left the cinema with a bad taste in my mouth. I think because I came so close to really liking the film, the issues just irritated me all the more. So, I suppose if you like big blockbuster and have a high tolerance for stupidity, go see it. If not, give it a miss and go back to watching your Italian arthouse drivel, you snob!