The Growing Potential within ‘Alita: Battle Angel’: A Review

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A combination of the creative forces of Robert Rodriguez and James Cameron already sounds like it could be odd enough as is – considering we’re also looking at a filmmaker known for making stylized B-movies working together with someone who tries to make the most out of what he can with massive budgets. It’s a pairing that already sounds odd enough as is on paper, yet the actual results already leave me wanting more. Many films have also tried and unsuccessfully adapted anime to the big screen for English-language viewers, with films like 2017’s Ghost in the Shell or Death Note being the biggest culprits, yet what Robert Rodriguez and James Cameron bring you in Alita: Battle Angel is something that feels almost like it could easily have been something out of the ordinary. But I already see great potential arising out of this story having come to the screen, with having found its footing – but only time will tell if we’ll ever get a chance to see this story reaching greater lengths. It’s a blockbuster that would without doubt benefit from having a sequel coming along the way, because there’s a lot to admire about the world building present in here – and even allowing its own ideas to resonate and grow into something greater.

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Rosa Salazar stars as the titular Alita, a cyborg within the 26th century who was found disembodied and taken in by Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz) who revives her with a new body. As the newly rebuilt Alita finds herself adjusting to her new surroundings, what happens soon enough is her realization that she was built with greater potential, after discovering a talent for fighting. Everything seems to be laid out perfectly for an origin story here, but there’s also a nice approach to the concept of coming of age as we see the world the way Alita does, as she eventually discovers a sense of identity for her own self. She carries a human consciousness but remains a cyborg, although she is dismissed by many others for being such – yet she carries a spirit that seems almost rare to be found within others of her own class. As Alita starts to discover more about the world for herself, the journey that Robert Rodriguez and James Cameron have in store for her is already something otherworldly. But even tapping into the idea that she is only realizing what potential she has, that’s exactly what Cameron is setting up here, and it already makes the notion that this story would have many more places to go right from here.

There aren’t many heroines that promise the same sort of potential that Alita has, which is a big part of what makes her journey so compelling. But the way Rosa Salazar allows her youthful spirit to come alive on the big screen, even through the work of motion capture is something that I haven’t quite seen in a modern blockbuster to this same extent. It’s one of the best performances that I’ve seen to come out of a film of this sort, which isn’t something that I say lightly. There isn’t a single emotion that her character showed that ever rang as being false, from the confusion about her own origins to the moment when she starts taking a part of the action – all of this is absolutely impressive. Setting forth a relatable protagonist in Alita, all I could ever really say is that what Robert Rodriguez and James Cameron have managed to bring alive is that I wanted to see more of this. I wanted to see more of Alita simply being herself, because at the very least we’re only seeing greater potential rising from every frame. But she owns up to that sense of discovery with such ease, eventually building her own confidence to a much greater extent and thus a resonating hero is presented to the screen. Say what you will about Alita’s large eyes, but I thought they already seemed adequate enough in context because her journey was one that only kept me sticking around every second. Yet just like Alita herself, I already see greater potential for Rosa Salazar’s own future – because this film is the material she needs in order to become a star rather soon enough.

The very world that Alita inhabits looks every bit as beautiful as one can ever want, but of course this is typical of a James Cameron production. Yet Robert Rodriguez still shows a sense of willingness to explore that world and its overwhelming sense of impact upon the way in which Alita would only be seeing what she’s meant for – highlighting the differences in class that come at play, first with the ruins of what’s remaining being left on Earth whereas paradise is established as being on ground that rests within the skies. There’s a whole lot to admire too about how the action scenes are filmed and choreographed, especially as we see Alita taking part in a round of Motorball. From the first moment when we see her trying out the game for herself there’s a whole lot that can be said about how Rodriguez makes you feel within the moment, capturing every last one of the stakes that she would be fighting against – even making you feel like you’re a part of the game. It all looks at its most impressive on an IMAX screen, obviously – but Cameron’s technical innovations would of course be crucial in letting this story embrace the very most in what it has, yet I’m amazed at how amazingly does Robert Rodriguez allow the feeling of being overwhelmed place itself over you as Alita tries to adjust to what the world has in store for her. It’s all a world you’re made to believe is real right on the spot, and it’s all so much more dazzling from there.

But other aspects of this film also have me wishing that a whole lot more would have come along the way. If there’s really anything that holds back James Cameron’s own films for me, something that has always struck me in particular is just the way he writers romance; I don’t think he’s very good at it per se. As a matter of fact, I think the romance between Alita and Hugo is one thing that keeps this film from being truly great for myself at least, mainly because there was never a moment in which it ever rang as being convincing to me. It’s not the fault of the actors, because they already are trying their best to make it work despite having so little to work with around this field – but the effort clearly doesn’t feel like it’s truly enough to lift this off the ground. There’s also quite a lot to be desired from the film’s many side characters, especially Mahershala Ali – who is undoubtedly fantastic in a villainous turn for once, but even he doesn’t ever feel like a fully realized character. There’s an intriguing caricature coming about inside of his presence, but there was never a moment in which I had ever felt that he left behind a sense of danger coming by from him simply being himself. At best, he’s trying to create something that were to stick inside your head more but at worst, it feels like a waste of a wonderful talent. Jennifer Connelly’s presence is another aspect that I find myself questioning because of how little she really seems to be doing, which is a bummer because she’s terrific. At least Christoph Waltz doesn’t feel wasted as Alita’s caretaker and makeshift father, but I just wish there was more to come for the supporting actors.

Noting that there’s already a lot more to be desired for a sequel, the film seems to make you aware of that to the point in which it abruptly ends. But its ending doesn’t give the impression that the film has already run past its own climax, you’re left there already prepared for the climax only to find that the film ends right before that. As much as I dislike that need to bait a sequel, I know for a fact that I still want it coming because I know there’s a whole lot that can be done from how Alita sees the world around her. Considering that this is a film all about her finding out what she’s meant for within the future, perhaps it seemed fitting that you’re only going to wait till later to see more of Alita coming by soon enough, but only time will tell if we’ll ever see that it’ll be fully realized. As it stands on its own, there’s a whole lot to admire about how everything is set afoot, and Rosa Salazar is every bit as wonderful as you could ever want her to be. From all the creativity on display, it simply can’t be helped that you’re already in the presence of a whole lot to be admired on the spot. But as it has already been said, I’m looking forward to seeing Rosa Salazar in a whole lot more in the future – because like the film itself, she’s already on her way to become something greater. If this isn’t a guarantee to make her a star, I don’t know what else would be, but at the same time there’s a whole lot more that one can only hope for if you’re seeing that very world the same way in which Alita does.


Watch the trailer right here.

All images via 20th Century Fox.


Directed by Robert Rodriguez
Screenplay by James Cameron, Laeta Kalogridis, from the manga Gunnm by Yukito Kishiro
Produced by James Cameron, Jon Landau
Starring Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Ed Skrein, Jackie Earle Haley, Keean Johnson
Release Date: February 14, 2019
Running Time: 122 minutes

 

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