It seems like every year audiences are treated to big, CGI-heavy productions of fairly obscure properties; last year’s “Ready Player One” was a fun blockbuster that due to the caliber of its director (Steven Spielberg), I found to be kind of underwhelming. This year’s offering, Alita: Battle Angel, is a better movie but suffers from the same fate: Due to the caliber of the talent behind it, with Robert Rodriguez directing and James Cameron producing, it’s a production that is a solid, fun, and well-rounded blockbuster that I highly recommend, if you understand that this is not a movie from either of those two creators; it doesn’t feel like a Rodriguez B-movie, or like a Cameron-led epic, but it is a fun movie nonetheless.
Like “Ready Player One”, your enjoyment of the movie will hinder on how much you enjoy big, action set-pieces, done in expensive and impressive CGI; Alita does start a bit slow, but once it picks up the pace, it is a thrilling and enjoyable action movie with some great looking CGI, some good performances, and some interesting world building. It thankfully remains interested in core cyberpunk themes, like body identity, class struggle and imbalance, as well as some very light philosophical exploration of people attempting to move into the upper echelons of society and the sacrifices they have to make; it is my understanding that the original manga, from which the movie is based off, is more bloody and grim, which I think would have made a more interesting setting, but the economic incentive was not there when this movie was announced back in 2003(!). Fortunately, this movie is also a lot more ‘anime’ than most other anime adaptations, which was a pleasant surprise for me and a welcome one; characters yell intensely and bang their fists into tables while looking tense, the villains have opening monologues for each fight, the design of the characters is a lot more ‘Japanese’, which makes the movie feel more novel than it actually is.
Beyond the great action and appropriate decisions, “Alita: Battle Angel” has very little to offer: The story is not that great, the characters aren’t entirely memorable, and the pacing of the movie sometimes feels a bit off—like the movie starting to picking up pace and delivering some great moments, before halting for 10 minutes to conclude a side-plot that doesn’t add anything or makes any difference. Then, there’s the added romance element, which does not work and feels incredibly blunt and awkward, as well as the anti-climactic ending which obviously sets up the sequel; however, those issues are not what will ultimately make this movie forgettable for me. In all honesty, those issues are excusable if your blockbuster delivers on some great action and memorable moments, and Alita certainly does deliver; what ultimately makes this movie akin to fast food is that if you go to a theater to see a movie directed by Robert Rodriguez, you would want to see something that feels like it’s his. This movie has precisely 3 moments where it feels like a Rodriguez-led movie, and that’s disappointing for me; likewise, this doesn’t feel like a Cameron epic, or at the very least it’s not up to his standards, because this movie feels very mechanical and similar to other movies. Despite the great action, the expensive CGI, the good decisions of the adapting process, and the obvious passion behind it, “Alita: Battle Angel” just feels like another “super-hero” movie, and neither Cameron nor Rodriguez are in the business of doing that—regardless if you like their work or not. It’s like going to see a Michael Bay movie that has no explosions, but it’s actually pretty good; that’s his entire career and you’re either into his movies or not.
I don’t want to end on a sour note, because I don’t think this movie deserves that; it is a great blockbuster movie, which will leave people in awe of some cool looking moments and entertained by some great CGI action scenes. I honestly hope this movie does well enough for a sequel, because I do want to see more from this world and Alita, but I want this movie to do well mostly because I want Robert Rodriguez to do more cool weird shit like his 100 year movie (which will supposedly release in 2115 and is being kept in a time-coded, bulletproof safe) and end his Machete trilogy, and because I want to see more from Cameron either as a director, a writer, or as a producer.
Also the CGI eyes looked kind of cool, don’t @ me.