Alita: Battle Angel takes place in a dystopian future, where the Earth never recovered from a devastating war known as The Fall. Set specifically in a place called Iron City, the story follows a cyborg-scientist/doctor who discovers a deactivated female cyborg in a junkyard. Dr. Dyson Ido, played by Academy award-winning Christoph Waltz, revives the cyborg and names her Alita. However, he and Iron City quickly learn that Alita is not just an ordinary cyborg.
Based on a Japanese cyberpunk Magna series, Alita: Battle Angel comes to theaters nearly two decades after James Cameron originally announced he would be directing it. Cameron, who co-wrote the film with Laeta Kalogridis and co-produced with longtime collaborator Jon Landau, eventually became too distracted with the Avatar franchise and had to pass the project onto another filmmaker—Robert Rodriguez.
While Cameron and Rodriguez don’t sound like an artistic match made in Heaven, their styles truly complement each other in Alita: Battle Angel. There are scenes which feel heavily guided by Cameron but then are followed by ones that can only come from Rodriguez.
There are gorgeous shots of Iron City, stunning visuals and CGI, with masterful world building—a true staple of Cameron’s work. Only to be followed by intense, and many times over the top, action sequences which have the anti-hero (Alita) coming out on top—a true signature of a Rodriguez film.
And these are some of the best action beats to come from the Spy Kids director. There is one scene in particular where Alita jumps into this underground world to face a villain, resulting in one of the most exciting fight scenes we’ve seen on the big screen in some time.
Regardless of how wonderful Alita may look, it is far from a perfect film. The movie is filled with too much for the rather thin story.
While this property was established long before the young-adult craze (The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, and Divergent, for example) the movie seems to suffer from the very same issues many of the modern YA movies have yet to overcome: subplots that lead nowhere, a lore that is never clearly explained, and too many characters with arcs that don’t pay off in the long-run.
And, of course, the love story that never seems convincing enough. Alita meets Hugo, a young boy from Iron City, within minutes after being revived and it comes across as if viewers are just supposed to accept that these two belong together—no development needed.
While Keean Johnson, the actor playing Hugo, has more charisma than most of the leads in the YA genre, he still has moments in his performance that are quite questionable. Toward the final minutes of the movie, the character has a pinnacle moment, and it feels so out of place. The moment is awkward and doesn’t sound genuine at all.
That’s where the movie reveals most of its weaknesses—in the final act. As Alita wraps up, the audience realizes that are being set-up for the generic cliff-hanger ending. It follows what could have been three different endings—each scene feels that they could have closed the movie on, but no. The filmmakers save the ending for a reveal that only tells viewers that this story is far from over. While die-hard fans of the property might accept this ending, this further showed how unoriginal the storytelling methods were.
Alita: Battle Angel is no doubt a fun action-adventure and a feast for the eyes, but it lacks any real depth or a story moving enough for me to want to see more.