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Alita: Battle Angel 3D – film review

February 21, 2019

ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL 3D

File under ‘kick-ass female genre characters done right.’

Reviewed on Thursday 14th February 2019


Directed by Robert Rodriguez. Screenplay by James Cameron and Laeta Kalogridis and Robert Rodriguez, based on the graphic novel series ‘Gunm’ by Yukito Kishiro. Starring: Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Ed Skrein, Jackie Earl Haley and Keean Johnson. Running time: 122 mins.

Feeling responsible for the loss of his cruelly slain daughter, a kindly cyborg repairer rebuilds a sentient droid he finds on a scrap heap, naming her Alita. Once she is revived, Alita sets out to uncover her past, soon discovering she has the superhuman fighting abilities of an agile warrior. When her abilities threaten those who rule from a floating city in the clouds, Alita is targeted by cyborg bounty hunters hell-bent on claiming their reward.

PLEASE NOTE – THIS REVIEW IS SPOILER FREE

Being unfamiliar with the original Japanese source material (a series of graphic novels published in the 1990s, rebranded in the West as Battle Angel: Alita) – I cannot say whether or not this big screen adaptation is a fanboy pleaser. However, as a theatrical Manga-inspired cyberpunk actioner, Alita: Battle Angel is remarkably engaging.

Originally mooted as Cameron’s follow-up theatrical release to his Dark Angel (and decidedly Alita inspired) cyberpunk television series in 1995, the project was shelved indefinitely while he became enamoured with and pursued his gargantuan efforts Titanic and Avatar, eventually to be dusted off and finally green-lit when writer-director Robert Rodriguez (Sin City, From Dusk Till Dawn) expressed an interest in reworking Cameron’s original 186 page draft – successfully bringing it down to around 120 minutes; resulting in an offer from Cameron for him to also direct the movie (with Cameron overseeing as producer).

Utilizing pretty much the same mo-cap and rendering technology Cameron had previously used to bring the Na’vi to spectacular life in Avatar, (again employing the services of WETA Digital) – the film definitely has a Cameron vibe about it. Alita herself is rendered in such fine detail – with the subtle nuances of Roza Salazar’s performance captured so perfectly, it is easy to accept she is an actual ‘person’ interacting with the other actors and her environment. Indeed, this could easily be considered an Oscar worthy motion capture performance (if Oscars were awarded to these things – and let’s be honest – they should be).

While the story plays as a well-worn ‘Amnesiac killing machine regains total recall of who they really are in order to take down the antagonists out to kill them’ trope (see also The Bourne Identity and Timebomb) – what sets this film apart is the character of Alita. As played by Rosa Salazar, Alita is a principalled warrior with a giving heart; someone who is always there for those who help her – fearless in the face of the greatest adversity; worthy attributes I might suggest to pursue in our own lives.

While the film for the most part is well-structured and paced, the first thirty minutes or so do appear somewhat choppy – as characters are introduced and the world created. However, by the halfway mark we are completely onboard with Alita’s journey of self discovery as the story hurtles towards a wholly satisfying conclusion (a conclusion, I might add, which leaves us wanting more). There are several well-staged and exciting fight scenes and action set pieces peppered throughout – the stand-outs being a humorous bar room brawl between cyborgs and the show-stopping motorball sequence (a successful melding of the original James Caan-starring Rollerball movie from the 70s with a Wachowski-inspired Speed Racer aesthetic). To its credit, while the film is undeniably violent at times – it is never explicitly so.

Being a James Cameron production and shot using the same 3D camera systems he developed for Avatar – the 3D cinema experience is top notch as one would expect. And having had himself his own experiences in shooting for 3D (most notably with the Spy Kids movies) – director Rodriguez knows the limitations of the format and is able to sidestep the potential visual incoherence lesser filmmakers fall into the trap of subjecting the audience to. Indeed, it would be interesting to view this film flat and see if it still makes visual sense without becoming just an overly-busy barrage of CG being thrust into our faces (something which Guillermo del Toro’s non-3D version of Pacific Rim was unfortunately guilty of perpetrating – the 3D version in that instance being the default version to see).

And just a word on the unwarranted derision this film has received from certain quarters. When one considers Cameron’s credentials in giving us some of the most celebrated and beloved (and let’s face it – iconic female role models in genre film history – most notably Sarah Connor and Ellen Ripley) – I truly am at a loss to comprehend the baseless claims of sexism being hurled at this movie in the SJW twitterverse. It appears there are some out there confusing the authentic portrayal and celebration of femininity as being somehow sexist and degrading – a patently bizarre and ridiculous notion to say the least. If anything, the distinct lack of shoe-horned and contrived identity politics in this movie is arguably most welcome and refreshing.

4 stars out of 5

Star ratings: 1 – poor / 2 – below average / 3 – good / 4 – excellent / 5 – unmissable

Viewed at the Event Cinemas Marion, February 14th 2019

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos     and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes creative people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies. Greg can also be heard on the Blu-ray commentary track for the 1980 sci-fi thriller Saturn 3, out now from Scream Factory.

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5 Comments
  1. Great review! Really enjoyed this film – great visuals and definitely wanting more!:)))

    • gregory moss permalink

      Cheers dude! And thanks for the re-post. 🙂

  2. Great review Greg, I quite enjoyed the film too.

    I agree the performance capture was particularly impressive. Not necessarily because Alita looked photo-realistic but because she conveyed an actual character with some considerable warmth and charm. No mean feat for a mostly CGI character. Pity some of the rest of the film was so generic and the film had so few surprises, not that I was really expecting any. Box office seems too weak to ensure a sequel which only confirms my worst fears about its lamentable ‘Part one of two’ feel at the end. I hope Villenueve’s Dune doesn’t suffer a similar fate.

    • gregory moss permalink

      Thanks Ian. I’m optimistically hopeful the international box office will be enough to warrant a sequel. Guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

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