With a name like Alita: Battle Angel you know the film makers are not
consciously trying to create an enduring, significant work of high art.
But although this film has a somewhat muddled script, it delivers more than its
share of thrilling stunts, and relatable characters. Also some of the the 3-D
sequences are stunning and the futuristic roller derby scene is a veritable
feast for the eyes.
Half the time this humanistic cyberpunk flick evokes Pinocchio (mostly in its
first half) and the rest of the time it is like a more like a kinder, gentler
female centered Blade Runner.
The film adapted Yoko Kishiro’s critically acclaimed manga, Battle Angel Alita,
but it flipped the title around for American consumption.
Rosa Salazar (from American Horror Story and Bird Box) is quite impressive in
the title role and her mix of wide eyed innocence, sensitivity and confidence
makes her an ideal choice to play Alita. The make-up people give her an
interesting look which combines humanity and artificiality.
Christoph Waltz is similarly convincing as a compassionate scientist (I have
always loved his work for Tarantino) who is mourning the death of his daughter
and the loss of his wife.
Alita was produced and co-written by James Cameron (who originally wanted to
direct the film) and it was directed by Roberto Rodriquez. The third
collaborator, Laeta Elizabeth Kalogridis, who also worked on the female centric
Birds of Prey and Bionic Woman revival shows who co-wrote the script.
The film is a bit schizophrenic and it more closely resembles a Cameron film
because it lacks the quirky humor, the extreme gore, lowbrow elements and
obscure cameos of some of Rodriquez’s other films such as
and Sin City (all of which I liked better than this film.)
Alita begins when the cyber surgeon, Dr. Dyson Ido (played by Waltz) finds the
battered remains of a cyborg. As it happens he has a cyborg body left over that
he wanted to use to house his deceased daughter’s essence or brain patterns. He
merges the two bodies and names the new composite being after his dead daughter,
Alita. Of course he immediately acts paternally towards Alita and thinks of her
as his daughter.
When Alita awakens after her repair she is in many ways your typical quasi
rebellious adolescent female, but she is missing most of her memories which come
She meets a young teenage male named Hugo (Keean Johnson) who teaches her all
about the world and the city she lives in . She lives in Iron City, a brutal
place where violence can erupt at any moment. There is also a place in the sky
called Zalem, and the politicians promise that if the Iron City workers follow
orders they can eventually move there. Of course this is a bit like modern day
preachers promising heaven to the worshippers as long as they stay with the
It turns out that most of human kind was destroyed in a great calamity, and the
survivors from every race and culture gathered in Iron City. Apparently the
ultimate multicultural society was created and a measure of ethnic
egalitarianism was achieved at a great expense.
We gradually learn that in her previous life, Alita was an arena warrior. Her
past comes back to haunt her and imperils her new life. Also unbeknownst to her,
her boyfriend, Hugo secretly hunts cyborgs so he can strip them of their parts
which he gives to the corrupt tournament leaders.
Also Dr. Ido’s ex, Dr. Chiren (portrayed in an icily sexy manner by Jennifer
Connelly) is disillusioned that she lost her daughter and she switched to the
dark side. She commands and oversees the people who supply cyborg parts to the
main villain of the film, a mysterious technocrat who only appears as a hologram
Initially, the film strongly held my interest but it gets a bit weaker in the
last third. It seems like they ran out of time or space and tried to cram too
much into the overstuffed ending. Also the previously fine character development
becomes rushed and neglected. Although entertaining, exciting, and worth seeing, it is not one
Rodriquez’s most idiosyncratic or personal films. His first feature, El
Mariachi, which was made for only seven thousand dollars (which I would still
probably give four stars today ) was actually a much more magical, original and
special feature than this 150 million plus dollars event movie. It is kind of a
shame that this is what Hollywood sees as progress.
Still with some reservations this film gets my recommendation, and I am looking
forward to seeing what the future holds for its promising star, Rosa Salazar.