Alita: Battle Angel Review
Ordinarily, Fanboys would've gone nuts hearing the names Peter Jackson and James Cameron mentioned together but this isn't an ordinary situation. Or even a happy situation. Within the space of a few months, these 2 legendary directors, the masterminds behind billion dollar-sized franchises, have delivered duds with projects they have produced, written and overall nurtured since their inception. And then you add the name Robert Rodriguez, director of this week's Alita: Battle Angel, and you really have to come to the conclusion that it's time studios stopped offering big names millions of dollars to play with before properly checking the screenplays.
Jackson's Mortal Engines was eventually a half decent Young Adult sci-fi film with a strong central hook but Cameron's Alita is a failure right from the outset. Its premise of a cyborg getting salvaged from junk and restored in a post-apocalyptic industrial age could've worked a lot better if only Cameron and co-writer Laeta Kalogridis had tried to do anything more than setting up a franchise.
In fact, even that isn't done well enough. Rodriguez and his two writers jump directly into the story of the Battle Angel, who has no memories from before, and instead of focusing on the character's dilemma and taking a swing at saying something important like the value of self-identity in the age where everything is manufactured and replaceable, the trio of creatives immediately set about expanding the mythology of the film's world, and quite poorly at that. The world of Iron City is developed visually (quite decent VFX) but not theoretically, with flashy elements like the sport of Motorball and the floating city of Zalem hogging the conversation instead of Alita's backstory and how The Fall came to be in the first place.
Alita's fragmented memories are cruelly and very obviously exploited to move the plot forward towards where the writers need the film to be by the end. They keep making her say it out loud that she's working really hard to remember again but it's quite literally never shown how or what is she had at work on. (She is salvaged by a cyborg doctor who can fix anything except apparently memories). It's obviously in the film's interest to keep all the memories at bay for a good length of the running time, so you get an unnecessary romance subplot for Alita, with absolutely no real chemistry between the pair, which is again used to shamelessly give Alita another motivation/roadblock. Meanwhile, her wiped memories somehow mean that she doesn't know what an orange or chocolate is but instantly recognizes a sword and its uses.
Which brings us to the action agenda of the film, which it pushes a bit too hard. Cameron and Kalogridis, hoping to amp up the adrenaline somehow despite a poor script, set up multiple antagonists and conflicts for Alita to get through. She has a duel at least once with each of them but none of these threads are ever properly resolved. Characters appear and disappear from the story at will and some of the devious plans that these antagonists come up with make so little sense that it immediately dismisses them as any real threat to our action heroine. And with the exception of the final Motorball Battle/chase scene through the streets, none of the action scenes make any actual impact on the audience.
Mahershaha Ali is utterly wasted as the villain who gets to just tease and build up anticipation through the running length and make embarrassingly novice power moves instead of actually doing something with the massive amount of power his character enjoys in the film's world. At least his performance in the death scene should give his fans something to be happy about. Rosa Salazar plays the epynomous Alita with a bit of heart, the only moments of genuine emotion throughout the film, and she keeps the audience from completely losing interest in her story. Even Christoph Waltz gets too little to do and too little to play with to have any actual lasting impression.
Alita: Battle Angel's shameless setting up of a potential franchise of films in its final scene should tell you all you need to know about this embarrassing cashgrab that is sullying to the legacy of a great like James Cameron and even Robert Rodriguez. Good thing that the mediocrity of this film makes sure we never get to see those sequels.
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