Alita: Battle Angel

Don’t let the “big anime eyes” or unusual title fool you into thinking this will be a lame film. Yes, this movie is based off a manga you’ve probably never heard of. Yes, it is easy to dismiss this film as something that will bomb like last year’s Mortal Engines. But if you place your faith in director Robert Rodriguez and writer/producer James Cameron, you will be treated to a surprisingly solid narrative and fast paced visual spectacle that is worth the price of admission to view in the theater.

The biggest praise I can give to Alita: Battle Angel is that the visually stunning world they create on screen feels “lived in” and real. I found it easy to accept and understand the rules of that world they built and explained throughout film. And while we are not given a full history of their world, we are given enough explanation to understand how or why something existed in their world. This gives us the opportunity to focus on the story of “self-discovery” that Alita ultimately is.

Rosa Salazar motion capture performance of Alita is excellent. Not only in movement but in emotionally delivery. You get the real sense of discovery with this amazing world that Alita is being exposed to. Additionally, as she begins to become more self-aware of who she is, you can understand the emotion and she struggles with love, trust and obligation. Furthermore, from a technical standpoint, by the end of the movie, I was not thinking of Alita being something that is motion captured and instead just accepted her as part of this onscreen world they delivered. This is really something that becomes make or break with this film for some people and it’s easy to dismiss it based on the trailers. However in context of the film, it works and does a good job drawing you in.

In addition to Alita, we are given strong performances from the ensemble cast of characters in the film. Christoph Waltz play’s Alita surrogate father Dr. Dyson Ido, Keean Johnson as the street smart and resourceful Hugo, Mahershala Ali as the gangster type gate keeper Vector, Jennifer Connelly as the morally ambiguous goal focused scientist and Ed Skrein as the cocky bounty hunter. Each of these characters play their roles well and help usher in the different levels of the society they live in. Perhaps the once complaint I have of this film is that the pacing of this film is so fast that we miss an opportunity to obtain a bit more backstory from some of these characters. It is not a big loss, but it makes you wonder if this film would have been better served as a 10 episode Netflix series or something of that nature.

In the end, I found myself enjoying this film more than I expected I would. Is it a perfect film? No. Nor does it invoke emotionally deep existential thought that the manga it is based on provides. But it does tell a sold story of self-discovery in a visually stunning and fully realized world. It is fun, fast paced and something that should be seen in the theaters. And if possible, do yourself a favor and watch it in 3D. This film has some of the best 3D effects since Avatar. The 3D doesn’t feel like an afterthought or gimmicky, but instead works to enhance the on screen world.

4 out of 5 stars.