PART 1…FOR NOW
Movie Review – Alita: Battle Angel
Review by Paul Preston
It’s been three weeks since I saw Alita: Battle Angel and I hate to say I haven’t thought about it much. This has me slightly guilty because that movie is so big and they put so much work into it, demanding a broad reaction from me. I should have been moved more, no? If it were 1994, I would’ve come out of Alita sure it was the most amazing movie of all time. Again, it’s BIG and there’s a lot of impressive stuff there but the story didn’t grab my heart to where it’s stayed with me.
Producers James Cameron and Jon Landau are being sold as big names behind the film, and that’s not surprising, they produced Avatar. Cameron co-wrote the script and the whole thing is directed by Robert Rodriguez. Rodriguez’s is an interesting career. His arrival on the scene with the low-budget El Mariachi made him an instant phenom. He then opted for a career of movies that are so over the top, they lost me. Only Sin City stands out to me as a sharp use of style and substance. Despite ample world-building, much of Alita looks like an adult Spy Kids movie.
Part of the problem, I believe, is that Alita herself is a full-CGI character. This is just something I’m going to have to get over because it’s going to start happening more, but I am constantly checking in on the technology and rarely, rarely am I getting engaged with that character as I believe the filmmakers would like. In an all-CGI world, like Toy Story, I don’t care, but when a CGI-human is melded with the real world, I’m often just taken out (and I know Alita has a robotic exterior, but her flesh is supposed to be realistic. However, couple Alita with the mostly-CGI backgrounds and this might as well have been an animated movie). Non-human CGI characters I get more involved with (like Caesar in the Planet of the Apes movies), but with the likes of Alita or Gen. Tarkin in Rogue One, I find it distracting.
They could’ve employed the technology used in Ex Machina with Alicia Vikander. Both Ava in that film and Alita are robotics mixed with human, and they did! Ed Skrein’s character Zapan is very similar to Ava. A full metallic robot body with Skrein’s face. Sadly, the most robotic actor in the movie is Jennifer Connelly playing a human. She plays a cyborg engineer and ex-wife to Dr. Ido (Christoph Waltz), who found Alita in a scrap heap and helps her find her real identity. The once vibrant Connelly looks tired here, actively saddled with sci-fi speak she’d rather not be doing. Waltz is his quirky and enjoyable self while fellow Best Supporting Actor Oscar winner Mahershala Ali seems to be enjoying himself going all menacing as Vector, who has been putting out hits on cyborgs.
Anything can be done in a movie now, the visual effects allow literally ANYTHING a filmmaker’s mind can come up with. There are grandly staged action sequences, especially a future sport called Motorball, where cyborg compete in a sort of roller derby to the death in a huge arena. With so much CGI, the camera can go anywhere, allowing you to view the action from literally any angle. And Rodriguez takes technology up on that. As I was recapping the plot and characters of this movie, a few times I found myself thinking, “oh yeah, that was pretty cool” or “that was a big choice”, but in something like Avengers: Infinity War, the stakes of the story were more clear or more visceral.
And Battle Angel ends with the unwise nod to the idea that this will be a franchise. At a price tag of $200 Million, Rodriguez and co. have an uphill battle to make back their money on an untested property. Again, I want to support that risk, but wasn’t Rodriguez the king of the low budget? Spending like 1990s Robert Rodriguez might benefit future entries into the Alita film series. He’s due to work with Jason Blum.
Think back, Star Wars ENDED. Wrapped its story nicely – Death Star ‘splosion, medals, done. It earned its sequels. Take a cue from The Golden Compass or the Divergent movies – concentrate on making one good movie, then we’ll worry about the franchise.
Directed by: Robert Rodriguez
Release Date: February 14, 2019
Run Time: 122 Minutes
Distributor: 20th Century Fox