Image Courtesy of 20th century Fox
After the Oscar season, the film industry falls seems to fall into a deep, exhausted sleep, and we typically see some of the worst film releases of the year. In the midst of this typically dull period, Alita: Battle Angel, the latest film from 20th Century Fox, sought to be the first movie worth talking about.
Alita delivered in the box office, grossing $27.9 million in its first weekend but critical reception was mixed with popular review sites such as Rotten Tomatoes placing it at a 60% rating.
With Robert Rodriguez as director and James Cameron as a producer, Alita easily posited sci-fi fans into seats largely due to the enlistment of these film legends who are both known for their grandiose action sequences. On the performance end of the production, the film primarily invested in fresh, come-up actors, with its biggest star being Christoph Waltz as Dr. Dyson Ido. Starring alongside him are Rosa Salazar as Alita, Mahershala Ali as Vector, and Jennifer Connelly as Chiren.
Alita is set in the distant future, the 26th century, in fact, 300 years after a catastrophic war known as The Fall has mostly desolated Earth. Aside from a city suspended in the sky known as Zalem, and Iron City underneath, where our main characters reside, civilization as we know it has disappeared. The story begins with Dr. Dyson Ido finding Alita’s disembodied cyborg head in the scrapyard in Iron City while searching for parts. He then takes her to his lab to repair and rebirth her. When she awakens, Alita has no knowledge of her previous self or where she is. The film then proceeds to follow her experiencing this world and uncovering her past, with villains along the way, all leading up to the main antagonist, Nova.
As expected with Cameron on board, one of the major highlights of this film is the exceptional special effects and CGI. In turn, Rodriguez’s influence is evident in every thoroughly entertaining, fast-paced, well-choreographed action sequence. To Alita’s credit, most of these scenes actually contributed to the development of the plot and the characters. In particular, the series of battles waged against one of the antagonist’s henchmen, Grewiska (Jackie Earle Haley), resonates with the central story and provides gratification as we watch Alita progress as a fighter and character.
Another great aspect of this film is the dystopian, cyberpunk city setting that Alita and her companions fight in. It’s well designed, and, of course, visually pleasing. This also leads to another, small nuance about this world that is impressive: as the audience, we never actually see the purportedly ideal city of Zalem and neither do any of the characters during the film. It feels as if, while the characters desperately struggle to escape the Iron City, they have no idea of what Zalem is truly like or if their efforts to go there are worth their sacrifices. It is an exercise in blind hope, and the stakes are life itself.
While the concept and visuals were excellent, Alita: Battle Angel has a plethora of problems. The most glaring issue is the poorly written dialogue. Often, the conversations between two characters fell flat and added nothing to the film. Lines of dialogue intended to drive the romantic subplot or expose backstories felt emotionless and forced. These clunky conversations ultimately made the film feel less fluid, slowing its pace. When the audience is waiting for the characters to stop talking, it’s a movie mishap.
This leads to the next major flaw: the entire third act, or finale, felt completely disconnected from the rest of the film. With frenetic shifts in pacing, editing, and tone, plot developments became so fragmented and rushed they were difficult to follow. Instead of delivering a satisfying climax, the plot’s momentum completely unravels.
Maybe this was due to misguided artistic choices on Rodriguez’s end. It could also be a result of the hatchet-editing that takes place when big projects face a waning budget. In any case, it’s a shame. If Alita’s outcome had even come close to the early build up, it could have been a masterful example of science fiction.
To be frank, Alita: Battle Angel is definitely not for everyone. If you’re a major sci-fi geek and love compelling stories that take place half a century in the future, you’re likely to enjoy this film, despite its shortcomings. However, if you aren’t a huge fan of the genre, it wouldn’t hurt to wait until it is on RedBox.