February 7, 2019

CINEMA | 'Alita: Battle Angel' Scraps Together Fun

"You're the most advanced weapon ever."
Rosa Salazar James Cameron Robert Rodriguez | Alita: Battle Angel

DIY filmmaker Robert Rodriguez takes on co-writer/producer James Cameron's vision of the future to adapt the Japanese cyberpunk manga, Gunnm, created by Yukito Kishiro for a truly imaginative action-adventure. Long in development, Alita: Battle Angel is another dystopic sci-fi fantasy that uses Cameron's trademark sense of world-building and Rodriguez's hard-scrabbled aptitude for visual filmmaking to realize its basic story.

A very big-eyed Rosa Salazar stars through performance capture technology as the titular amnesiac cyborg who rediscovers her foggy past and otherworldly fighting skills through various video game style battles. Despite her cartoon-like eyes that purposely evoke anime imagery, she provides a wondrous performance full of energy and life.

Co-written by Cameron and collaborator Laeta Kalogridis, there's a lavish yet breakneck quality to the entire picture that teases a huge, broadly appealing world yet focuses squarely on the ramshackle qualities of the industrious Iron City and its working-class cyborg inhabitants. What's happening and the rules or structure to the twenty-sixth century are never entirely clear despite the detailed visual storytelling from cinematographer Bill Pope.

The wise Christoph Waltz plays another watchful mentor and our exposition machine for how the future arrived at its current raggedy state. Newcomer Keean Johnson co-stars as Alita's dreamy but wooden love interest, Hugo, who is shoehorned with a lot of predictable plot points used to move the story's many moving parts together.

Rosa Salazar Christoph Waltz James Cameron Robert Rodriguez | Alita: Battle Angel

A luminous Jennifer Connelly is ever so mysteriously sexy and powerful as Waltz's ex and one of many possible antagonists. She clearly revelled in her coldly appealing but stoic role as a sort of inbetweener character trying to bridge different stories together. Mahershala Ali and Ed Skrein come in as further supporting villains in the already jam-packed, overstuffed epic where everyone's hamming it up to various levels.

There's so much going on in this future world we're dropped into including three hundred years of unclear history where a devastating war, mysterious floating city, and Martian technology inform only a partial backstory of Alita and her supporting characters. Quickly, the last act devolves into some very hurried franchise teasing while chunkily introducing a greater villain showcase that may never come and a series of only half resolutions to the rushed love story.

Alita: Battle Angel is full of Cameron's knack for technological spectacle and fantastical storytelling told efficiently through Rodriguez's keen eye for visual geography. It suffers from the usual hallmarks of big-budget franchise-building by stuffing in so much futuristic mythology yet it's still undeniably fun and has a crazy momentum to it.

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