In a world set centuries into the future (specifically the year 2563), humanity has left another war behind them, but much like any war, the loss of life and the change it brought still have an effect on all the people who remain. Still coping with the aftermath of “The Fall”, Dr. Ido Dyson (Christoph Waltz) searches the scrapyard of Iron City, looking for anything that is useful and salvageable. It is during this hunt for working parts that Dr. Dyson comes across a torso of a female cyborg (Rosa Salazar), who still has her very human brain still intact.
Dr. Dyson rebuilds the cyborg, and when she comes to, she has no recollection of her past life and who she really is. Dr. Dyson names her Alita and he begins to show her the ways of Iron City. Alita is excited about this newfound life and does her best to learn everything about the customs of Iron City and how to keep safe in a world where anyone with working tech can be an easy target. Despite everything going on in Iron City, Alita befriends a young man from the city named Hugo (Keean Johnson). Hugo introduces her to the wild sport of Motorball, watches out for Alita, and the pair instantly form an inseparable bond.
Dr. Dyson wants what’s best for Alita, but in his mission to keep her safe, he smothers the young cyborg to the point of rebellion. While she is not meant to leave the house after dark, Alita defies Dr. Dyson’s rules and follows him one night after noticing some suspicious behaviour. She finds out that Dr. Dyson is a Hunter-Warrior (a kind of bounty hunter) and saves his life when he realizes that he’s been set up by the cyborg assassin, Grewishka (Jackie Earle Haley). This meeting sets off a chain of events in which Alita begins to remember some of the training from her last life and serves as the film’s catalyst for all the action and mayhem that follows.
Directed by Robert Rodriguez (Sin City) and produced by James Cameron (Titanic), Alita: Battle Angel is an ambitious film based off of the popular manga series by Yukito Kishiro, Gunnm. While the film is a bold adaptation, it was lacking in its storytelling. There were many bland tropes (specifically as it pertained to the romantic elements within the story) and instead of adding something heartfelt to the story, it served as more of a distraction. This could have been better if Alita and Hugo had better chemistry. However, it ultimately felt forced.
Not only was this a problem, but at times, the pacing was off and for the most part, the performances (as great as they were) oftentimes felt wasted – especially as it pertained to the antagonists in the story. Academy Award-winning Mahershala Ali and Jennifer Connelly were very compelling as villains, Vector and Dr. Chiren, respectively. However, the duo ultimately seemed wasted. While they were great in the scenes we did see them in, it left me wanting more – something the audience never really got the opportunity to experience.
A performance the audience did get a lot of time with was Rosa Salazar as Alita. Having last seen Salazar in Netflix’s Bird Box, I wasn’t sure what to expect from her in terms of Alita, but Salazar knocked it out of the park. Salazar did a great job in the role and the motion capture was really well done. When the audience first meets Alita, she is a fish out of water and quite naive. However, we see her character growth on-screen steadily from start to finish, and it’s truly great to watch. The motion capture is extremely well done and every facial expression that Salazar made was certainly captured perfectly. The likeness was almost eerie, but it worked well for what the crew were aiming to achieve with the film. Despite the film’s flaws, they did do a really great job in their creation of Alita.
Another element of the film that truly worked well were the visuals. Considering the film’s hefty budget, you can see exactly where it was used. Aside from the superb motion capture, the movie really has some stunning visuals and impactful action sequences. Having experienced the film in IMAX 3D, Alita: Battle Angel was actually really enjoyable from a viewing standpoint. The world that was created from Iron City to the Motorball arena, to the epic battles from “The Fall” looked amazing. This being said, the amazing visuals, action sequences and motion capture weren’t enough to give the film what it truly needed in terms of the story.
With a stirring performance from Rosa Salazar and a cast of great, but underused villains, Alita: Battle Angel is still worthy of a watch on the big screen.
Alita: Battle Angel hits theaters on February 14, 2019.