It is days like this that I am just dumbfounded.
Does James Cameron’s name hold so much weight that Fox thought that it was a good idea to give him a 200 million dollar production budget for a live-action adaption of a manga series not many people are aware of for a film that spent 15 years in development hell? To make matters worse, the film reeks of a YA genre that has long been dead. Mortal Engines, another 150 million box office bomb found this out the hard way. Perhaps it isn’t the smartest idea to make a political statement that will turn off half of your potential audience before they ever buy a ticket, especially when your film isn’t tracking to do well anyway but you can make the case this whole project was a bust from the start. If it sounds like I’m being hard on the film, it’s because I really don’t understand the thought process behind it and that is the central problem.
Alita: Battle Angel begins in the year 2563, three hundred years after the unexplained war known as ‘The Fall’. A scientist named Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz) finds the remains of a cyborg with a human brain (Rosa Salazar). After repairing the damage and giving her a functional body, Ido names her “Alita” after his late daughter. Alita discovers the wonders of the world but quickly realizes that not everything is what it seems and that there are a lot of dangerous people who wander the streets in search of bounties and parts. When an evil organization wants Alita for her parts, it is up to the ass-kicking cyborg to be the underdog hero and save the day.
If there is one word to describe this movie, it is empty. Once you are done drooling over the very expensive special effects the film offers, you really don’t have much else to work with and that is done on purpose. The old saying of counting your chickens before they hatch applies to this film tenfold. There are many plot details that are sacrificed in the making of this film because the creators were banking on it being such a hit that they omitted those details for a sequel. Problem is, that sequel may never see the light of day meaning you are stuck looking for answers that you will never get such as; Who is Nova? What is Zalem? What is up there? Why is everyone in this universe disabled with robot parts? If Mars were the bad guys, why were they fighting Zalem? Why is the only route to get there a victory in a rigged game?
If this sounds like nitpicking, these are important details the audiences need to understand the story which they will never get. Alita also has a pretty big hero and villain problem as the villains are weak and the hero is overpowered. Slice it any way you want but Alita is a Mary Sue and that was also by design. James Cameron himself describes the character as “a moral character in a very immoral and dark world. In this world of the future, everyone is compromised. Her father figure is compromised. Almost everyone is compromised or has sold out or made their deal with the devil…except for her and she won’t do it.”
Alita being such a badass hurts the film in two ways. First, no one in the film is a threat to her, I believe the only time she even takes any damage was because the plot needed an excuse to give her an even better body that she really didn’t need in the first place. Second, because the true enemy is one we never see until the film’s end and we still don’t know his powers and motivations, Alita is stuck fighting a cannon fodder boss that she already beat on two different occasions before the ending. When you make your hero so strong she single handily beats up all of your films bad guys before the 3rd act, you can’t expect the audience to sympathize with her when you decide to give her an even stronger suit in the film’s end. It’s like giving Ironman a power boost after he’s already beaten the main antagonist.
It isn’t all bad, Alita is a fine film if you just turn your brain off and not overthink it. But even as a popcorn flick it doesn’t leave you with anything that is going to make you want to see a part two and as it stands most people probably won’t watch part one. Alita: Battle Angel is a hollow film that seeks to grab your attention with cool visuals to detract you from the fact it feels like another Hunger Games movie that wastes its talent like they wasted the money the put into the film.