A very expensive failure, Alita: Battle Angel lacks in many ways when it comes to its plot and its script. Showcasing excellent CGI and some standout action sequences leaves audiences with a very pretty picture with no depth to it at all. It’s not one you’ll regret seeing but it’s certainly not one you’ll regret missing.
Adding to his increasingly diverse filmography Robert Rodriguez directs the film adaptation of the manga Gunm, under the title Alita: Battle Angel. Written by James Cameron, Laeta Kalogridis and Rodriguez himself, the film does fall flat in terms of its characters, script and general performances. However it does take the world building in its stride with excellent CGI crafting a city that feels real with living, breathing inhabitants. Made up of mostly fully CGI and partially CGI characters, Alita: Battle Angels $200 million budget does show and the money was clearly well spent. Unfortunately however, the story that comes out of this spectacular world leaves a lot to be desired.
Set in the year 2563 Earth has been decimated by a planetary war known as The Fall. The majority of the population is split between two areas, those on the ground in the scrapyard metropolis known as Iron City and those in the sky in the last floating city of Zalem. The set up of the two major population centres is done very well with Zalem hanging over Iron City as a constant reminder to those on the ground that there is a better life in the sky.
Living on the ground is Dr. Dyson Ido portrayed relatively well by Christoph Waltz (relative to the rest of the performances in this film). Ido trawls the junkyard immediately under the city of Zalem in order to find spare parts for the repairs he gives to the cyborgs that live in Iron City. One day he finds the head (harbouring a human brain) and upper torso of a cyborg in amongst the junk and decides to take it home and rebuild her. Upon awaking Alita (portrayed by Rosa Salazar ) has no memory of who she is and embarks on an adventure of self discovery encountering the dark secrets that relate Iron City and Zalem to her own past.
The plot moves along in a entirely predictable manner with very few surprises clearly just tying together several pretty impressive action sequences. None of the actors have any real chemistry on screen and every line delivery feels like it was read from a cue card. This is not the fault of the actors for the most part but more a fault with the script. The lines aren’t believable and the characters for the most part are quite boring with no real interesting motivations powering them through the plot. The romantic interest is sub standard for even a teenage drama and utterly lacks any sort of real emotional pay off which is a shame because the world is beautiful and interesting but those that inhabit it are dull and lifeless.
Where Alita: Battle Angel does shine however is the CGI and action set pieces. All of the cyborgs (especially Alita) look fantastic and mesh well with the live action performances of the other major characters. The fight sequences are exciting and and every punch and hit feels like it has real weight to it allowing for some quite brutal scenes in a film rated 12A. Since most of the characters fighting are robots, dismemberment and decapitations are common place allowing Rodriguez to really stretch his legs with the amount of violence in the film without making it too disturbing for children to watch. It’s heavy but it’s fun and Rodriguez strikes that balance very well.
Unfortunately for all its years in development hell, Alita: Battle Angel will likely fall into obscurity and memory even though it tries desperately hard to set up a franchise. Without landing anything in any meaningful way plot wise there is very little reason for studios to return to this franchise. Couple that with the fact that it has had a terrible box office run since its release and the massive budget for the film alone not including the extensive marketing campaign it is probable this will be one of the biggest bombs of the year.
It is a shame we will likely never see a sequel to this film as the world is interesting and with a different writing team behind it, something good could have been pulled out of this universe. Sadly however there is very little to come back to and even less reason to come back to it. Alita: Battle Angel will be remembered as a very expensive failure which goes to show that forcing a good idea doesn’t always pay very well.