Alita: Battle Angel (2019)

alita1If there’s an uncanny valley in Alita: Battle Angel, it is surprisingly not the CGI heroine (although individual viewer’s mileage may differ on that) but rather in the hokey script which stumbles through plot contrivances and in particular a stodgy not-quite-the-end finale, mostly from its need to set up further adventures/movies. Its become a necessary evil in modern blockbusters, unfortunately, that studios and filmmakers are not investing in single movies anymore- it’s all about franchises. I must say my appreciation of this film would have been improved no end if it had just had those old fashioned things; a beginning, a middle, and an end. But this is not to say that Alita: Battle Angel is unique in this, it is something that all blockbusters seem to suffer from, whether it be a DC movie, a Marvel movie, a Star Wars movie, just about any kind of blockbuster/tentpole release- they are all strangled by it. Maybe some people walk out of these movies excited at the possibilities of all the teases for what’s next, but I just find it incredibly frustrating and I think it handicaps the movies.

But I will say this; I really rather enjoyed Alita: Battle Angel. Much more than I expected. But it could really have been so much better, too, which really bugs me, and I suspect repeat viewings may not be too kind when some of those plot contrivances start to wear thin.

alita2.jpgSo the good, then? Well the visual effects are pretty extraordinary, frankly. Alita herself, a stunningly rendered CGI character based on motion-capture by actress Rosa Salazar is a surprisingly engaging and emotive antagonist  whoops, protagonist (if she was an antagonist it might have been a more interesting movie but hey ho, that’s just my typo). Clearly the whole film depends upon it, and she works- she really works. Many people were querying her large eyes (faithful to the anime, I expect, which I am not familiar with) but the funny thing is, it’s those eyes that work the magic and helps convince. The whole film is a triumph, visually, the world-building quite extraordinary in places. It certainly convinced me far more than the similarly CGI-dominated Ready Player One did (indeed it’s a better film entirely). Its definitely brilliant eye-candy and if this film on 4K disc doesn’t sell UHD televisions nothing will- I am sure many genre fans currently sticking with Blu-ray (or, heaven forbid, DVD) may finally take the plunge to upgrade for this film (if the film takes their fancy).

The problem, though, is that script, which is really a pretty clunky series of coincidences piled upon coincidences with a few twists via swings of character that aren’t really earned. Considering that this film has been in development hell for decades (a long-gestating James Cameron project that he was likely delaying for the technology to catch up with his vision, only for it to be sidelined for his Avatar films) I’m disappointed by the script- it certainly had the time to fix its fundamental problems and like so many sci-fi epics before it, isn’t really worthy of all the effort given it by the technical wizards.

I also think it suffers from the same problem as Disney’s John Carter did back in 2012: it’s all too familiar now. In the same way that John Carter suffered from comparisons with Star Wars and Avatar and many other films that actually were ‘inspired’ by that films own original source material of decades before, so does Alita: Battle Angel suffer from comparison with, say, Elysium or Altered Carbon (utopian city floating over trashcan city) or the live-action Ghost in the Shell (cyborg augmentation and huge CGI metropolis) and all sorts of others, whether it be the slo-mo CGI action stunts of the Matrix films or some of the real boy/robotic tensions of A.I. Artificial Intelligence. Certainly there have been so many cyberpunk-styled films now that they threaten to descend into parody, which is a shame and probably a necessary evil at this point (its like bemoaning a Star Wars film for featuring am elaborate space battle, or a Western having guys riding horses). Its almost inevitable that the future city looks very Blade Runner at times.

For all that, though, yes I did enjoy this film. There’s a curious heart to the main character’s over-familiar concerns of identity, of what is machine, what is human and all the Pinocchio subtext that Spielberg rather did to death in the aforementioned A.I. Artificial Intelligence, and if this film feeling like the first half of a larger story does grate somewhat when the end credits roll, well, I guess that’s just where we are now with these films. I rather hope we get to see another one to tell the rest of that tale, but again, these days you never can tell what’s destined to be a hit, and a flop, we just have to wait and see those box office figures.

6 thoughts on “Alita: Battle Angel (2019)

  1. Tom

    Pardon me if this is nitpicking, but do you mean to describe Alita as a PROtagonist in the third paragraph (a few lines in)? You call her an antagonist. Maybe I should hush up because maybe I am guessing away the film for myself but I was always reading her as the hero of the piece.

    I like how you bring up this epidemic of sequelitis. I can’t stand it myself. Big tentpoles as standalone stories are . . . well, do they even exist anymore? I’m trying to name one and really am coming up short right now.

    1. Whoops, thanks Tom you’re right- she’s definitely a PROtagonist. That’s the trouble with typing stream-of-consciousness reviews, you wind up needing a proof checker, and this isn’t the first time either (I must stop rushing things). I’ll amend immediately. Thanks again for the catch.

      Regards sequels etc yep, its something really ill-judged and hurting new films. Its the darkside of the success of the Marvel films etc. Everything’s bloody box-sets now and the individual films suffer because, well, they aren’t individual films anymore. In Alita’s case, Its clear that the real ‘Big’ story hasn’t even really started yet- it screams out that its planned as a trilogy. Which, if this thing doesn’t do huge box-office (as its an expensive project), we’ll never see.

  2. What really bugs me about sequelitis is that it’s perfectly possible to make a satisfying standalone movie that also leaves the door open for more. You don’t need a tease of a sequel to draw people back — if they like the first one enough for it to end up getting a sequel greenlit, they’ll be back for that sequel too. I wonder if it’s somehow come out of TV, where a cliffhanger could draw audiences back the next week? As I say, I don’t think film works the same way.

    I’ve not seen this yet and will probably leave it until disc now. It’s getting the rarest of all releases, a 4K + 3D combo (with regular ol’ 2D Blu-ray too, natch), so I’ll surely pick that up.

    1. Its certainly a bane with modern movies, that they can’t seem to make a proper standalone film and just let it grow naturally into a sequel with another story. Ending films with a big ‘To Be Continued’ is just a big piss-take these days, especially when films stutter financially and don’t get that teased part two. I wonder how that Mortal Engines film concluded, I have it pre-ordered as it quite intrigued me but I’d hate it to end with a tease as it seems to have pretty much bombed. If Alita were a normal film I’d hope it would get a follow-up but with its budget it has to be absolutely huge and I can’t see that happening. And yeah, you may be doing the right thing waiting for it on disc. That 4K should be pretty amazing eye-candy.

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