Alita: Battle Angel movie review Sci-fi? Young Adult? Robert Rodriguez's film doesn't know what it wants to be

 
Alita: Battle Angel movie review  Sci-fi? Young Adult? Robert Rodriguez's film doesn't know what it wants to be

Here’s the thing about massive blockbusters. You need to have the right balance between building a gigantic world full of variables, and stay within the intimate confines of the protagonist so the main focus stays on him or her. The bigness and the smallness need to have the Yin and Yang relationship, like in The Matrix, for instance.

Alita: Battle Angel tries very hard to pull off that balance but never quite settles down to achieve what it wants. Even in the hands of Robert Rodriguez, this is very much a disappointment for anyone who has followed the development of this project ever since James Cameron got involved. It’s got all the technical expertise and a cyberpunk setting meant to wow you, but it just fails at every turn to do so.

It’s the typical cyberpunk setting – we’re introduced to Earth 500 years from now, which is filled with robots and the utopian city of Zalem floats in the sky, restricting entry to non elites. Things change when Dr Ido (Waltz) discovers a robot in a heap of trash and proceeds to build Alita, a humanoid with the thought process of a teenage girl. Ido and Alita become a surrogate father and daughter, much to the curiosity of Ido’s former pal Dr Chiren (Connelly), who now works for the shady Vector (Mahershala Ali). Alita, with her vacillating memory explores the world she is just ‘born’ in, and of course, like in every movie like this, discovers that she is destined for greater things and is a chosen one of sorts.

The problem with Alita: Battle Angel isn’t that it is clichéd, but how dull it is. There is a lot of world building done within the film, but it isn’t done cinematically – it is done verbally. Characters pop in and out of the scenes to explain to us, through Alita’s eyes, what this world is about and how dangerous it is, and what she must do to change the world order.

Exposition dumps are found at every turn, but the excitement doesn’t generate because droning information isn’t quite what you want to see in a movie about robots kicking ass. The action sequences feel like thrill pockets utilised to fill the holes within the narrative, to keep it from being a tiresome jaunt. And since Cameron isn’t behind the camera you don’t get action memorable enough to forgive the weakness surrounding them.

Then there’s the issue of the lack of focus on the protagonist’s adventure.

When she isn’t plowing through buildings and discovering her own hidden abilities, Alita’s character development is relegated to Young Adult tropes, and the love story here is as warm as a bucket of ice. The boyfriend in this case is Keean Johnson whose character and performance exudes less flesh and blood than the robots found in the film. The rest don’t fare much better as Ed Skrein, who was delightful in Deadpool, hams to the hilt as Alita’s nemesis. There is no personality in any of the characters or their actions, they are all placeholders for the next big synthetic green screen action spectacle.

And there’s no going around Alita’s snapchat eyes – there was absolutely no reason for the visual motif just to make her appear like an anime character, unless Rodriguez had opted for a lighter tone in the vein of the Spy Kids films.

As as final nail in the coffin the film ends on a sequel bait, not giving you a satisfying enough conclusion to this story, which is a real bummer considering the patience one has to show to see what happens in the end. Double bill this one with Jupiter Ascending for an exercise in crushing dissatisfaction.