James Cameron has never been accused of leaving any “meat on the bone”, metaphorically speaking, when it comes to production of his projects. After all, being a genius takes time. His last four major feature films have spanned almost 25 years – True Lies, Titanic, Avatar and now Alita: Battle Angel. That’s 25 years of combined speculation and anticipation that gets built up from everyone in both the entertainment industry and the movie-going public. Although the Academy Award winner loves the build-up, he usually finds a way to hit a home run and make all of us realize the wait was well worth it.
It was nearly ten years ago that Avatar hit the big screen. The film was, in my opinion, a visual masterpiece that to this day holds the bar for what everything a 3-D theater experience should be. It should have been Cameron’s second straight Oscar winner for Best Picture, following up Titanic in 1997, but I digress.
Not long after Avatar was released did we hear rumblings about a new futuristic adaptation that Cameron had in mind about a “new-school” heroine named Alita. In fact, these rumblings were initially murmurs that date all the way back to 2003, but Cameron decided to focus on the Avatar saga first.
Cameron has said previously that the main reason Avatar took so long to make from when he wrote it was because he had to also create the film-making technology to shoot the film in a way he saw appropriate. In the same light, Alita had to wait for more enhanced CGI graphics and cameras as well.
With all that being said, we fast forward back to today, where Alita: Battle Angel finally has arrived in theaters. Although Cameron is not directing the film, he did write and produce it. Instead of directing as well, he handed the camera over to another renowned director, Robert Rodriguez, whose previous directorial works include From Dusk Till Dawn, the Sin City series and Machete.
Rodriguez’s films are typically visually impressive. I thought Sin City was so creative and brilliantly shot – perfectly bringing a graphic novel to life. As a result, between Rodriguez’s amazing cinematography and Cameron’s perfectionism, I was definitely excited to see Alita finally make her debut.
The film, which takes place deep in the future in the 26th Century, centers around Dr. Ido (Christoph Waltz) discovering the shell of an old cyborg in a pile of rubbish that still has life in it. Dr. Ido is basically a doctor for cyborgs and hybrids of his time, so he takes on the project of reconstructing the cyborg found in the wreckage. The cyborg becomes a young girl he names Alita, who he finds out to have originally been created as a soldier from yesteryear for a rival, but now defunct, nation.
Vector (Mahershala Ali) is the main villain in the film who acts almost like a puppet to the main boss, who will remain nameless for the sake of spoilers. He works in cahoots with Chiren (Jennifer Connelly), and the two of them (along with their cyborg goons) play cat and mouse with Alita as they try to catch her for the purpose of taking her parts, specifically her heart that is worth millions due to its rarity in the current world.
One thing for sure about this film is that Alita is mesmerizing on screen. Although she is CGI-animated, her mannerisms and voice are acted out by Rosa Salazar. Alita looks extremely real, to the point where at times you forget she isn’t.
Alita recognizes and embraces her combative skills and makes it her mission to defeat those who are bringing harm to other cyborgs and those she cares about. Most importantly, though, is she wants to also find ways to fit in as much as she can.
As you can imagine, things get a little weird when she falls in love with a local boy named Hugo (Keean Johnson), as they defend each other in various, separate scenarios throughout the film. This film is yet another movie that shows me a world where something like this can happen is not far away and honestly is a little disturbing. Perhaps we aren’t far away from psychological projects like the one in Ex Machina, or people in relationships with holograms like in Blade Runner 2049, or even having real life “Stepford Wives.” It all freaks me out, and I hope I’m long gone before it happens.
Here’s the deal – this movie is missing something. Robert Rodriguez created a dim, over-crowded post-apocalyptic setting that seemed to resemble more of a Battlebots episode at times than a potential realistic world of the distant future. Alita is extremely appealing to the eye, and it’s fun watching Mahershala Ali play a villain, and some of the fighting scenes are exciting. I’ll even add that, although a little strange, the love story involved in the film does stick with you and you find yourself routing for Alita and Hugo’s union. But something still just wasn’t there for me.
Ultimately, I am sad to say that this movie did not live up to its hype, being that it took literally over a decade to make. Alita: Battle Angel is like a fine dinner that looks appetizing, but then has no flavor when you bite into it. It definitely needs some salt.
Sprinkling some CGI effects and adding big name stars like Mahershala Ali, Christoph Waltz and Jennifer Connelly still doesn’t hide the lack of “it” in this film. Maybe “it” is lack of character development in this film? Or perhaps it was the surprisingly and inexcusably weak script by James Cameron? I’m honestly not really sure. I just know that Alita almost feels more like an adventurous video game instead of a major motion picture. It’s just an “OK” movie that could’ve and should’ve been so much better.
MATTER RATING: 6.5/10
OSCAR SCALE: 5/10 (Best Visual Effects, Sound Editing)
BY: CHRIS GUEST