Trying to fall in love with film again.

'Alita: Battle Angel' is one of those popcorn moives you enjoy while you watch it but forget when you walk out of the cinema

Alita: Battle Angel (2019) - IMDb

Story

Alita, a deactivated cyborg is awoken by Dr Dyson Ido but has no idea of who she or where she came from and has to go on a quest to find out who she is.

The story isn't weak, it's a very good template for telling complex stories as Alitta has to figure out who she is. There are visible moments of greatness especially towards the end, but there are moments, mostly in the middle where the story feel more hollow. Those are the moments where the action takes precedence over story, which wouldn't work if the action scenes weren't satisfying, but luckily they were.

Acting

The cast has a lot of recognisable names, Mahershala Ali, Christoph Waltz and Jennifer Connelly, Ed Skrein, Jackie Earle Haley. It also has a very recognisable cameo at the end that I won't spoil.

I wouldn't say the acting is bad but I wasn't blown away by it, Rosa Salazar performance as Alita was really good. It was surprisingly layered and she carried the more emotional scenes which worked as much as they did because of her performance. She also had good chemistry with other cast members with the exception of Keean Johnson. He plays Hugo who is primarily Alita's love interest and their relationship just isn't believable. It feels more like a friendship than a romantic relationship

In all honesty, this movie wasted Mahershala Ali's talent. The movie just doesn't do enough with him. Anyone who has seen Luke Cage knows that he can play a brilliant antagonist but you don't get a sense of that here. His screen presence isn't commanding enough for him to be truly intimidating.

 The same can also be said for Christoph Waltz, while he can make pretty much deliver with anything he is given,  there is something here that is missing with this performance. I wouldn't say he was phoning it in but this definitely won't make the list of top 10 Christoph Waltz performances.

Writing/Direction

The movie was directed by Robert Rodriguez. I've reviewed two of his films, Spy Kids and The Adventures of Shark-Boy and Lava Girl. He is one of those directors that has a recognisable tone, even with his more mature films like Sin City and The Machete films, but that tone is absent here. It doesn't feel like a Robert Rodriguez film and while that isn't a bad thing it, there is no distinctive stamp on this movie. It could have been directed by anyone and I would have thought Robert Rodriguez would have put his own spin on it. That being said, the movie has a clear direction, it's obvious where Robert Rodriguez wanted the movie to go, however, the pacing is compromised a little as the movie slows down a little in the middle.

James Cameron has a knack for creating epic movies (see Titanic, Avatar and Terminator) which came in handy with this movie, it has a very large scale and manages to keep you invested in the main character's story and motivations while incorporating other characters without compromising the main plot points.

This movie is based on the Japanese manga series called 'Gunnm' and as someone who isn't familiar with the source material, I didn't feel isolated or out of depth. Rather than borrowing from the source material and leaving you to fill the blanks, the movie covers enough that you understand the story. (I do have to mention that there aren't a lot of Asians in this movie, which gives me pause as this is an adaptation from a Japanese property)

The movie clearly sets up a sequel, which makes the whole thing feel incomplete rather than a cohesive story. There is nothing wrong with setting up a sequel but it becomes an issue when it is to the detriment of the first film which is what is happening here.

CGI/Set Design 

This the draw for the film. When you watch the trailer, it makes it clear that the CGI is going to play a very large role (especially as the main character is completely CGI) and it's very very good.
One thing to note is the fact that the movie looks futuristic to the point that it looks artificial. If you've seen Ready Player One you will know what I mean by this.

This is what the world looks like.
Alita: Battle Angel sets are a "respite" from dark sci-fi dystopia


99% of the movie is CGI and the beginning is jarring because of how overwhelming it is, and much like Ready Player One you get used to it and start to appreciate it.

Alita is a completely CGI character and she looks photorealistic, which is a testament to the VFX artists. You actually forget that Alita is a CG character, while she doesn't look 100% human, she looks believable to the point where you stop questioning it.

99% of the action set pieces are CGI and there were moments where I got lost due to the sheer amount of movement on the screen, which caused me to check out for a few minutes. That happened more than I would have liked but not enough to cause me to lose interest in the film as a whole. That being said, the more decipherable action scenes were really good and that's what made me enjoy the movie more, as the film went on you really wanted to see Alita kick ass (and she does).

Score/Soundtrack

The score for this movie is pretty good. It manages to sound futuristic enough to encourage you to suspend your disbelief and immerse yourself in the world while being grounded enough for you to connect with it. That's something that sci-fi movies can struggle with and Junkie XL manages to balance the two very well.

The movie also features a song during the credits called 'Swan Song' by Dua Lipa, and I have the same issue with this song that I do with the end credits song in Aquaman where you like it until you leave the cinema. It is a good song that fits the tone of the movie, but it just wasn't as impactful as it could have been.

Overall Thoughts

I was very cautious going into this due to the number of times it was pushed back, that is usually a red flag for me and is sometimes an indicator that the film might not be that good. (Hence why I'm giving Dark Pheonix some serious side-eye) but this was pretty decent.

Alita: Battle Angel is a really good popcorn movie, where you turn your brain off because if you think about it too much, the film starts to fall apart. It has a fascinating premise, great action scenes and a likeable lead. It's not the best movie I've seen this year but it's a pretty decent one.

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