Starring: Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly
Director: Robert Rodriguez
Running Time: 122 mins
Alita: Battle Angel is an American film about a young woman who is brought back to life with no memory of her past. Setting out to discover who she really is, she will also fight to protect her world as it comes under continued threat from a higher power.
I expected Alita: Battle Angel to be a ridiculous, overly serious and dull CGI-fest. And while it is a rather preposterous blockbuster with delusions of grandeur, as well as a little too much CGI, I was pleasantly surprised that it had some great moments of both exciting action and intriguing emotion. It doesn’t carry that through the film as a whole, leaving it as a generally poor watch, but it’s not quite as terrible as you may expect at first.
First things first, we have to talk about the CGI. In a genre that still feels like it’s stuck in the late 90s, we’ve had film after film that pummels you with over-the-top CGI and special effects to the point of delirium, with the likes of Jupiter Ascending, Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets and more all branding themselves as a new frontier of special effects in the sci-fi genre.
Alita: Battle Angel is much of the same, with an overly greyish colour palette that features dull and clichéd sci-fi tropes, while director Robert Rodriguez and producer James Cameron try to show off as much cool 3D, motion capture and CGI technology as possible, without it ever really adding to the atmosphere or story at any point, but rather adding to an irritatingly cluttered screen that takes away from the pure entertainment value of parts of the story.
The most striking thing about the film’s visual effects, however, is Alita herself, and how the film tries to push the boundaries by including a predominantly CGI presence alongside live-action characters right the way through the film.
Does it work? Well, not perfectly, as there are still elements of motion capture technology and digital recreation of human faces that still don’t quite sit right – i.e. unnatural and jarring facial movements – but it’s probably still the best attempt that we’ve seen so far at putting a CGI human face alongside live-action, and certainly a big step forward when compared to the ghastly digital recreations of Grand Moff Tarkin and Princess Leia in Rogue One a couple of years ago.
So, while I didn’t particularly enjoy the film as a visual masterpiece, it’s still a technically impressive achievement, and does mark another step forward as we edge ever closer to the line between live action and CGI being pretty much invisible.
Away from the special effects, Alita: Battle Angel doesn’t have all that much to offer, with a rather predictable and generally dull sci-fi story that, while taking inspiration from an original manga, finds itself too reminiscent of the likes of Divergent and The Maze Runner, all the while feeling like a pale imitation of true masterpieces of futuristic sci-fi like Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049.
A lot of the film’s premise is predictable and equally preposterous, and with a screenplay that features less-than-inspiring dialogue throughout, its delusions of grandeur as a semi-serious action blockbuster prove all the more frustrating, as it attempts to hit home with real drama and stakes as it builds towards a lacklustre conclusion.
With all that said, the story does have its moments, and they’re moments which really do help Alita: Battle Angel feel like a more entertaining film than it actually is. On the one hand, there are some genuinely fun action sequences – predominantly through the early part of the third act, while there are also even some emotionally engrossing moments, particularly early on where we see Alita trying to come to grips with the new world she sees around her.
Most of the emotional intrigue is unfortunately undone by predictable twists, and the best of the action sequences just don’t last long enough, but the film isn’t quite as tedious or painful as it may appear at first thanks to those better moments, and that’s ultimately what helps it to prove a little more enjoyable.
Finally, a word on the performances, which are just about passable, but nothing you’ll be thinking about when the credits start rolling. Rosa Salazar is likable in the lead role, and Christoph Waltz has moments to show his talents, even though he, much like co-stars Jennifer Connelly and Mahershala Ali, is pretty much absent for the majority of the film.
Overall, I wasn’t all that enamoured by Alita: Battle Angel. It’s a far better film than I ever expected at first, with impressive (if not slightly garish) visual effects combining with moments of great blockbuster fun and emotional depth. In all truth, though, it’s still a predictable, messy and generally dull affair, with a poor screenplay that leaves the story feeling just as preposterous as any outdated sci-fi flick, and that’s why I’m giving it a 6.5.