Brendan Da Costa

Alita Battle Angel (2019) Poster

Title: Alita: Battle Angel

 

Directed by: Robert Rodriguez

 

Written by: James Cameron & Laeta Kalogridis

 

Starring: Mahershala Ali, Jennifer Connelly, Jackie Earle Haley, Keean Johnson, Rosa Salazar, Ed Skrein & Christoph Waltz

 

Produced by: James Cameron & Jon Landau

“Pushing

motion-capture

to its limits.”

Reel Talk - Alita: Battle Angel (2019)

Exciting and visually striking. Heartfelt and a little heartbreaking. It’s heavy on tropes but who cares? 2019’s Alita: Battle Angel is one film that desperately needs a sequel. Or, I swear, I’ll just keep watching it over and over again.

 

Alita: Battle Angel is an adaptation of Yukito Kishiro’s 1990s manga series, Battle Angel Alita. A lovingly restored cyborg’s desire to remember her forgotten past sets her on a journey where she makes new friends in low places and enemies in high places.

 

Before the film graced big screens across the world back in 2019, it spent more than a decade in production hell, competing for the attention of producer James Cameron with the much-overhyped Avatar. It all worked out in the end though. Alita: Battle Angel and Avatar share something of a big brother, little sister relationship. Alita borrowed much of the technological advancements that Cameron made for Avatar and proceeded to make far better use of them, kind of like the younger sibling who seemed to make off with all of the family’s good genes.

[…] great performances from its live action cast and a truly impressive turn from its motion-capture star, Rosa Salazar.

[…] the beating, bleeding heart of its subject…

Though the bones of the story aren’t terribly original—anyone who has seen Elysium, The Island, Oblivion, Ghost in the Shell, RoboCop, Immortal Engines, Tron, Astro Boy… ok, I’ll stop—will recognize the all too familiar tropes of the cyberpunk action genre. There’s an ostensible utopia with a dark secret and an underclass of “normies” who are duped or coerced into working for “the man” or “the system”. There’s a doomed romance between star-crossed lovers from different worlds and more than enough eye-popping action to keep the whole thing from feeling too sapient or too sappy.

 

For all that the bones of Alita feel familiar, however, the skin feels brand new. The world that Kishiro created and Cameron adapted and, finally, director Robert Rodriguez imagined is truly immersive. You’ll be surprised at both how much world-building Rodriguez was capable of cramming into the first fifteen minutes of the film and how much more you feel that there still is to discover. Sidebar: this is a large part of why it feels like Alita needs that sequel. Yesterday.

Moreover, Alita: Battles Angel does what so many other films in its genre have tried to do—i.e., show the beating, bleeding heart of its subject amidst all of the shiny steel and red rust of the cyberpunk techno-light-show flashing around on screen, providing audiences with a happy distraction. Alita does this with far more originality and to much greater effect than its genre-kin. Much of that is because of James Cameron’s and Laeta Kalogridis’ compelling script—brought to fruition, I might add, with tremendous direction by Rodriguez and berserk production design by Steve Joyner and Caylah Eddleblute.

 

The rest of it, however, has to do with some great casting and great performances from its live action cast and a truly impressive turn from its motion-capture star, Rosa Salazar. Though the film’s visual effects team deserve credit for pushing the capabilities of motion-capture technology to its limits, Salazar was keenly aware that the aspect of her performance over which she had most control was her voice. The range of expressions that the visual effects team was able to capture is impressive—I don’t think that they missed much—but it is definitely Salazar’s voice that makes Alita the sympathetic and loveable heroine that she is.

“The world that Kishiro created and Cameron adapted and, finally, director Robert Rodriguez imagined is truly immersive.”

Somewhere between all of the beautifully choreographed action sequences are tender, innocent moments that we share with Alita. Those moments are well-written and perfectly executed and the result is Alita’s emotional vulnerability bleeding over into tense action scenes where we believe that our heroine is in actual danger. Superhero films such as Captain Marvel and Man of Steel can take note on how to craft strength through vulnerability.

 

Junkie XL provided the score for the film and while it isn’t going to stick around in your head or be instantly recognizable in the years to come, it is atmospheric and carries out its mission successfully. That being, the Junkie XL and Dua Lipa collaboration on the theme “Swan Song” is a strong and moving pairing fitting for the film.

 

Director Robert Rodriguez has stated that he would like to do a follow-up film for Alita: Battle Angel. Even producer James Cameron agreed to fellow producer Jon Landau’s suggestion for the of titles for not one but two sequels; Alita: Fallen Angel and Alita: Avenging Angel. If—hopefully when—we do get those sequels, I imagine that any scripts would have benefitted, as the first did, from an extended stay in production hell. In the meantime, audiences will just have to wait in entertainment purgatory for the second coming of our battle angel.