Alita: Battle Angel Movie Review: A Modest Visual Spectacle

Despite some flawed storytelling, it is a visually ambitious stunner.
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Robert Rodriguez is a master at doing films that are either a stunning visual experience like Sin City or a thrilling pastiche of classic genre fare like Planet Terror and From Dusk Till Dawn. As it turns out, his latest venture, Alita: Battle Angel, is a mixture of the two. Its story is rather old school and it is a visual feast for the eyes of the imagination. Even if the film’s screenplay ends up succumbing to tired machinations, it is still a thrilling theatrical experience that should be seen on the big screen.

Based on the Japanese manga by Yukito Kishiro, Alita: Battle Angel is about a cyborg named Alita (Rosa Salazar) who is decomposed and found in a junkyard by Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz). After putting her back together, Dr. Ido acts as her caretaker. Meanwhile, Alita falls for a human named Hugo (Keean Johnson) who introduces her to the sport of Motorball which involves cyborgs combating against one another. However, once Vector (Mahershala Ali), an entrepreneur who conducts Motorball games, discovers Alita, she ends up in a fight for her life. In the process, she tries to recall memories from her past.

Thankfully, because films like these are typically about spectacle, its cliched storyline can be easy to overlook. Also, the leading performance from Rosa Salazar overshadows the storyline as well. Even though she’s acting through motion capture, she still crafts together a charismatic action heroine. After having small supporting roles last year in Bird Box and The Kindergarten Teacher, Salazar already proves that she is a true blue leading lady. She is easily the film’s acting MVP along with Christoph Waltz who refreshingly plays against type as Alita’s father figure Dr. Ido. In addition, Eiza Gonzalez, who appears as the villainous cyborg assassin Nyssiana, leaves a big impression in her small role. 

That being said, most of the other actors are rather wasted. As a result of his underdeveloped villainous character, Mahershala Ali ends up going through the motions. Same with Jennifer Connelly as Victor’s partner Chiren who is also Ido’s ex-wife. However, while they weren’t given much to do, they still have more substantial roles than one famous actor who has a cameo that’s small to the point where it’s literally a quick, easy buck for him. In case you don’t know who it is, I won’t spoil it for you.

As for the rest of the film, the CGI effects on Alita are done quite well. Also, the other cyborgs who appear have designs that amazingly make each of them quite distinctive. In addition, one sequence near the end where Alita takes part in a motorball competition is easily the movie’s most thrilling moment thanks to some genius camerawork. It’s even more thrilling than the end which surprisingly ends up being quite anti-climactic.

For such an adrenaline-fueled actioner, it had such an abrupt ending. It’s likely that maybe the filmmakers were attempting to set up a potential sequel. But while a sequel would certainly be pleasing, you never want to count your chickens before they hatch. Again, it’d be wonderful for Alita: Battle Angel to have a sequel so that we could see more of the vivid world that has been crafted on screen. Plus, we’d get to once again see Rosa Salazar kick butt as the titular heroine. But it’s always wise to let sequels happen organically rather than do heavy setup in case a sequel never comes.

In the end, Alita: Battle Angel does its job at being an effective, action-packed crowd pleaser.The storyline may feel like deja vu for some viewers. However, it’s still worth quite a watch thanks to its jaw-dropping visuals and an incredible leading performance from Rosa Salazar. Lastly, since there’s plenty of setup for a sequel, be sure to buy a ticket in case you want to see one.

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