Centuries after a devastating war known as the Fall, Dr. Dyson Ido finds and revives a deactivated female cyborg who cannot remember anything of her past life and goes on a quest to find out who she is, who the enemy she fought was, and who the enemy is now.
With some large talents like James Cameron behind the talent but risky material to adapt and bring to the screen, like the anime-style look of the main character and the world building that could feel either enthralling or detaching to the audience, Alita: Battle Angel is a mixed bag and a film that not everyone will love. It’s a visual treat that must be viewed in 3D on the big screen, should you decide to see it. The way this futuristic universe is brought to the screen feels vivid and engaging, even if the narrative feels inferior to the visual storytelling. The action also feels lively and grand, and there is some violence that feels brutal for a PG-13 film and pushes the boundaries of what you’d expect from the action when the film begins. The film’s greatest strength is also its greatest weakness — it feels very much like a manga adaptation, translating luminous worlds to the screen, but also horrific character designs and sound effects. The world building feels fresh and ecstatic, but also too overly done to really convey any meaning. There’s a rich over-world people want to reach to escape a poor and corrupt society underneath, a popular sports game called Motorball, a big war that happened in the past that we learn more about (but still not much by the end), a “Hunter-Warrior” underworld where anyone can stand up and fight rogue criminals and robots, and a “Cyborg-Lives-Matter” message. But did all of this interesting buildup lead to much by the end? The answer is unfortunately no. Whatever potential these ideas had are traded for a tiresome romance and focus on lifeless antagonists and conflicts. Whatever performance that Rosa Salazar may had delivered, good or bad, is lost in the distracting animation on her face that makes the character feel less likable. The only really memorable performance was that of Christoph Waltz, as Oscar winners Jennifer Connelly and Mahershala Ali are underutilized in forgettable and disposable roles that have little screen-time and don’t feel very imposing or significant.
Though the movie has a few good things going for it, any charm or meaning ultimately is overshadowed by terrible dialogue, and for a cult filmmaker like Robert Rodriguez, it felt like he was struggling to make everything not feel awkward and out of place. Also, there didn’t feel like there was much development for Alita as a hero because she jumps from not remembering anything about her surroundings, right to being a nearly unbeatable badass. The film could have delivered more emotion between its characters if it hadn’t only hinted at this theme of discovering yourself and instead really emphasized it, but the movie ultimately sacrifices any emotional satisfaction to set up a sequel that will probably never happen. In the end, nothing story-wise feels worth merit or reflecting on because there is really no ending to the film. It’s not even similar to other franchises that had open-ended installments like The Hobbit or The Hunger Games, because in those situations, there actually felt like there was more story to tell and more of those worlds to explore. Alita could have gone on for twenty minutes longer and everything would have probably come full circle. Unfortunately, there is nothing about the conflict they set up for the next one or much about this movie to promise a great sequel, and considering the mixed response and average box office performance, how much more faith should studios and audiences put in the stories yet to come in the world of Alita?
Alita: Battle Angel is a visually exciting 3D experience with entertaining action and interesting world-building. However, the story and writing fail to keep up with the visual appeal, and the set-up of sequels feels frustrating and forced, making this film feel too incomplete and unrewarding. James Cameron is a filmmaker who’s full of fascinating ambition and imagination, but maybe he’s better off dedicating himself to the upcoming Avatar sequels.