Directed by: Robert Rodriguez
Written by: James Cameron & Laeta Kalogridis
Starring: Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali
The future of machines having the thoughts and emotions of a human seems more and more inevitable and this film gives the world a taste of what this inescapable reality would look like. It has incredible visuals, while some seemed a bit wonky and sports an incredible cast of Academy Award-winning performers.
In the year 2563, humans live in harmony with cyborgs in a city filled with trash and all aspire to live in the city in the sky, Zalem. When Ido (Christoph Waltz) finds the remains of a cyborg, he decides to put her back together and name her Alita (Rosa Salazar). After being rebooted, Alita learns more about her past, her abilities, falls in love, and gets herself into many different precarious situations that she has to fight her way out of.
The release of this film felt like a myth for several years. It had been a passion project for James Cameron, director of Titanic and Avatar, for years but it seemed unlikely that it would ever see the light of day. Cameron co-wrote the script and Robert Rodriguez helmed the director’s chair to bring this film out into the world, which makes for an interesting pairing. Robert Rodriguez has directed Spy Kids films that certainly cater towards children and then an adult-centered Sin City. His style varies depending on the material he receives and he does a fine job with this film. The word “fine” ultimately described where I land on Alita: Battle Angel.
A major talking point that drives its success of the film was its visuals. Human characters exist in the film, but the storytellers need the audience to connect with the non-human Alita. That might be challenging for filmgoers because of the design of her famous eyes. She has larger eyes than what we typically associate on a human face, which makes watching her feel like an odd experience. When watching her, the overwhelming sentiment of something not feeling right never went away, which may have been the point of the character design. However, even if it the choice had intention behind, it does not mean that it necessarily works.
Additionally, the character designs for the other cyborg-like characters felt a bit odd as well. For example, one cyborg called Zapan appears to be fully a robot but has the face of the very handsome Ed Skrein. That assemblage shows up with most of these cyborg characters and it just did not look good. I found it to be very distracting and honestly very silly. I couldn’t take any of these threats very seriously because their presentation looked so funky. As I mentioned earlier, the success of this film rides on the visuals and it did not work for me because the story lacked freshness and became bland.
However, Alita: Battle Angel has several enjoyable aspects, including the performance by Rosa Salazar as Alita. I always love to see Latinx folks getting lead roles and she exceeded my expectations with this film. She transcends the weird eyes of her character to give a beautifully human performance as someone trying to figure out their identity. She stands out as the highlight of the film along with the action. While the visuals of the cyborg characters did not appear well during conversations, when in action and fighting each other, this film succeeds. All of the fight sequences have this kinetic energy and show the true power of the protagonist.
This film had the opportunity to properly utilize three Academy Award-winning actors to supplement the film in Christoph Waltz, Mahershala Ali, and Jennifer Connelly. Unfortunately, their characters became such a bore and very bland. These actors didn’t receive the material to properly succeed in ways they have done in the past and I wondered why the filmmakers went out of their way to get them to feature in it. None of them have any real emotional resonance or anything for the audience to attach themselves to. That leaves the audience having to connect with a bunch of cyborgs with human faces on them. Seriously, it looks so weird.
The great potential of this film was not fully realized in my eyes and while Rose Salazar tried her best, she could not elevate the rest of the material. The film is made in a way where the filmmakers are hoping to make a sequel with its ending. I hope they get the chance to do so for me to see the bigger picture of what this story can be when fully realized. I would be open to that film adding to this one but for now, Alita: Battle Angel remains fairly average in its composition with visuals that just did not work for me