A great sci-fi movie that only scratches the surface of the larger world. Alita: Battle Angel is a movie that I had heard about for years starting with James Cameron’s involvement. Of course though he ended up sticking with his Avatar world and its sequels rather than direct this film himself, but he did serve as writer an producer. I knew very little about the source material of this character, but I do remember when the trailers first came out and there was controversy about how much it looked like an anime or at least Alita looked too anime with her extra large eyes. Needless to say I was not as excited when it was released to actually go out and see it and it took up to now for me to actually give it a shot.
The first thing I noticed right from the opening scene was that the movie does have a sense of anime feel right off the bat. One thing being that the CGI doesn’t quite feel complete enough to feel more realistic, but rather almost like a CGI animated anime movie. I’m sure there are some good examples of what I’m talking about, but I just don’t have any right off the top of my head. I also think that this may just be an excuse for the lack of sharpness of the actual CGI. It could use a lot of work, but I know with such a risky title they probably weren’t given the budget they would have needed.
That brings me to the overall design of the world and the need for a large budget and some top of the line CGI. Whether it be the actual world itself and all of the technical aspects of this dystopian future or the robotic bodies of many of the bounty hunters and others. I do think that the effects look best when there isn’t too much motion and when the imagery is somewhat simplistic. Case in point being anytime you just see someone’s robotic limb or when the kids are playing the street moto-ball.
It’s those smaller less detailed moments that also feel the sharpest and most detailed at the same time, while the big action set pieces seem to struggle to hold up as well. It may not be fair to knock it too much for its CGI unevenness since most of the film is just CGI, but it is still a fair complaint. One problem is that in some scenes, especially the flashbacks of who Alita was in the past seem to feel just like the virtual world of Ready Player One. In that movie it works because it is a video game, but in this movie it makes some scenes just feel off when out together with the rest of the film.
Outside of those issues though, this movie is quite good on delivering an exhilarating and exciting origin story to this badass cyborg. Her development from start to finish is great as she grows stronger and comes to terms with who she actually is as well as giving us a great hero to root for. However, she is the most interesting character in the whole movie, but it makes it hard sometimes to care about her as much as I’d like to since she really does feel so animated.
All of the other characters do their job well enough with the great actors portraying them, but the movie also doesn’t utilize the incredible acting talent it has. My biggest disappointment was the use of Mahershala Ali as the supposed big villain of this movie. I never once felt like he was really the main villain since he is just a puppet for someone that we don’t get in this movie. It was just a letdown to not see him given a role that he could really sink his teeth into like he did for Luke Cage.
Putting all of that aside though leaves me with the overall action and visual style of the film that is quite good. The movie never leaves wanting more in terms of awesome looking action, and great visual choreography of the fights. They do feel like they were ripped straight out of an anime show or movie which could have come off as being too much or not as believable and maybe it does for those who aren’t a fan of the visual style as I am, but I think it really worked since I like this kind of movie and style.
I think really though, the film lacks in terms of the overall story and trying to set up more for the future without putting more effort towards the story at hand. I said earlier that the origin story was good which it is and they seem to do everything right to make a solid standalone story, but throughout the whole film there’s an overarching villain that is pulling the strings. There is nothing wrong with having that to set up for future movies, but it just seemed that they were holding a lot back for the sake of wanting to wait and show us more in the future. Some movies that would be smart, but with an incredibly risky title like this film, there was more than likely less of a chance of a sequel.
I think that some of what works best for this movie is the actual world itself rather than the story that we get. Yes, I very much like Alita and I want to see future stories of her in this world and her backstory, but I also just want more of this world. There are plenty of story elements that are set up in this movie that could be expanded upon in the future, but a future where we actually get a sequel because it doesn’t seem we will. Unfortunately because of all of the story elements they were setting up, I found myself asking for more detail on the world rather than focusing as much on the story. That may be my fault, but it tends to happen with movies that are trying to world build.
Alita isn’t for everyone and I can’t find too many people that I know actually liking it, but it is an entertaining movie that will have its fans. I think anyone that is a fan of anime in any way will enjoy this movie, but I won’t say that I recommend going out and seeing it. If you have interest then go for it, but if you don’t then don’t worry. I think the story has potential in the future, but only if it’s given an opportunity to deliver on the set up that was in this film. Like you know, seeing Ed Norton as the villain in the next one.