Sunday, 24 February 2019

Alita: Battle Angel (2019)

Alita Battle Angel (2019 poster).pngDirector: Robert Rodriguez
Running Time: 122 Minutes
Starring: Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Keean Johnson, Mahershala Ali, Jennifer Connelly, Ed Skrein, Jackie Earle Haley, Jorge Lendeborg Jr, Lana Condor, Eiza González, Idara Victor, Jeff Fahey, Rick Yune

As the years have ticked by, one would be forgiven for believing this wouldn't get made in their lifetime. James Cameron has been trying to get this project off the ground for so long, and now that he's focused solely on the Avatar series, the directorial reins have been handed to Robert Rodriguez, and the manga series has finally been given the live action treatment. Thankfully, the build in years has resulted in a terrific feature worth ones time.

While looking through the junkyard, Dr Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz) discovers a disembodied female cyborg with a functioning brain. Gifting her with a new body and the name Alita, Ido revives the cyborg (Rosa Salazar), who cannot remember anything about her past. But as deadly forces come for her, and those she's close to, Alita discovers she holds incredible abilities within.

At a first glance, our protagonist seems like a typical archetype. A strong hero who fights for what is right, but despite not having any memories of her past, has a mastery of a long extinct fighting style at her disposal. What helps us to get behind the character is Rosa Salazar's great portrayal, who brings a believable nature to the character. She isn't all eyes and no character, we're made to believe in her very easily, and it helps that Alita is a very likeable figure we wish to see persevere. Even the anime eyes manage to fit in well, serving as a great example of how the visuals work well to depict each aspect of this well realised world. Alongside a great eye for action scenes (a bar brawl is an utter highlight), and a wonderful sense of excitement, Robert Rodriguez manages to be a worthy choice to bring this story to screen.

Living in the wasteland that is Earth, the people are willing to whatever is possible to get by, no matter how dirty the work is. It's all for the opportunity to escape to Zalem, a wealthy city in the sky which towers above, seeming like a heavenly escape, and embodies the hopes of reaching somewhere better. Hugo is such a figure, who wishes to help Alita however possible, but carries the same dreams of reaching a place better than his current surroundings. Keean Johnson plays him rather well, sharing great chemistry with Salazar which helps us buy into their romance, doing a good job where the writing unfortunately was a bit of a let-down.

Our antagonist for this feature is Vector, a man who rigs Motorball races and lives in luxury, preferring to rule in hell as opposed to serving in heaven. Mahershala Ali does what he can, but is disappointingly left with an underwritten role. Even worse is how it's more than Jennifer Connelly gets to do, while Christoph Waltz is left to sleepwalk through a role that serves more as a plot device. There are so many characters who haven't even been touched upon yet, and this leads to one of the main problems with the film. So many threads are dangling throughout, leaving the plot to bounce around trying to cover them all, and it ends up feeling like a mess. This is especially true in the third act, when the focus becomes setting up a sequel first and foremost, leaving it to feel like an incomplete tale with little resolution, as opposed to the first chapter in a wider story, like where Star Wars and Lord of the Rings have succeeded.

Despite the many years it's been gestating, Alita: Battle Angel is far from another example of anime and manga poorly transitioning over to American cinema. Fronted by an engaging lead character in a well realised setting, this is a terrific feature which I hope gets the sequel it set up.

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