Alita: Battle Angel Review,

Alita: Battle Angel (2019) Review By Philip Henry

Alita Battle Angel

Director: Robert Rodriguez
Screenwriters: James Cameron, Laeta Kalogridis & Robert Rodriguez; based on the graphic novel by Yukito Kishiro
Stars: Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly

If you’ve seen the trailer for this you probably thought the same thing as I did – it’s Ghost in the Shell under a different name. I know nothing about manga comics or cartoons, so I am talking about the underwhelming Scarlett Johansson film when I talk about Ghost in the Shell. It was such a boring movie I actually remember very little about it, apart from there being some kind robotically-enhanced super-girl in it who went around kicking butt in the robot nudy.

And that’s basically what we have here, too. Though in this case she goes around smashing up cyborgs that either fight with the speed and agility of Spider-man, or lumber around like those APUs that defended Zion in The Matrix movies. For me, this film has the same failing as Avatar – Cameron is more interested in showing us the technology behind the film than telling a decent story.

Another thing I saw in the trailer was the almost completely CG environment. I’m not a fan of this either (I had a really bad experience with a Phantom Menace once) because as good as the CG might be, and it definitely is in this film, it still looks fake to me, and little more than a semi-realistic cartoon. I just find it really hard to get emotionally invested in a CG characters walking around a CG environment, except in the case of the Toy Story movies, of course, but they work because the emphasis is on character and not showing off their latest CG advancements.

I don’t want to get too down on this film. It’s actually not half bad, and more than watchable, but considering the pedigree behind the camera it strikes me as disposable fare. There is a story in there that borrows from Logan’s Run and The Matrix to name just two, and I’m sure the actress in the lead role was fine, but how can we tell when her face has been altered to give her big manga eyes, so all the subtlety of her performance is lost?

There are some nice inventions in this PA world starting with the 26th Century Fox logo at the start – don’t you just love it when they mess with the logo. I especially liked the one-wheeled motorcycle and some street sets do seem to have been built and aged very well, before being enhanced with CG, of course. The futuristic sport of Motorball plays a big part in the film. It’s basically Death Race on motorized roller-blades on a Nascar track. There’s some big action set-pieces that look very nice, but since I never felt any of the CG cyborgs were in danger, it was hard to care when anyone crashed or burned. 

This film looks exceptionally good, but that’s not enough (for me at least). Movies aren’t just a visual medium, they should engage the emotions as well as the senses and that’s where Alita fails.

Maybe I’m alone in finding it hard to get invested in computer animated characters, but my heart never skipped a beat when Tom & Jerry got hurt either. I’m sure others will love this movie for its sheer scope and spectacle. There were kids at the screening I attended who seemed to love it. There is one F-bomb in the film, which struck me as odd. Maybe it was Cameron and Rodriguez trying to prove they were still edgy. They should’ve just dropped it, because I think kids are the main audience for this. The shadow of Rodriguez’s Spy Kids movies looms large and one F-bomb isn’t going to bring the rawness of El Mariachi or Desperado back.

It’s an enjoyable enough way to spend a couple of hours but it’s a long way away from earning a place on my Blu-ray shelf between The Terminator and From Dusk Til Dawn.

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