Review: ALITA BATTLE ANGEL is a "mesmerizing must-see"

February 20, 2019

“Where am I now?”

“Here. With me.”

ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL, based off the 1990's Japanese manga (comic book) series by Yukito Kishiro, has seen a long hard road to the big screen. A passion project from Oscar-winning director James Cameron (TITANIC, Avatar, Terminator 2), 20th Century Fox released the film this past Valentine's Day weekend as a joint effort between Mexican auteur Robert Rodriguez (Desperado, From Dusk 'Til Dawn) and producer Cameron resulting in one of the most jaw-dropping exercises in high-concept science fiction filmmaking this millennium.

Set in the year 2563 after a devastating war has left a majority of Earth uninhabitable and festering in the squalor of Iron City beneath the wealthy floating utopia of Zalem, a cyborg scientist Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz) discovers a disembodied female cyborg with a fully intact human brain and a super-powered heart. Taking her in and giving her a new body, he christens the newly awakened amnesiac android as “Alita” (Latina actress Rosa Salazar). Alita befriends one of Ido's workers, Hugo (Keean Johnson) and falls in love with him almost instantly.

Not all is what it seems with Alita, however, as she is soon the target of the mysterious Vector (Mahershala Ali) and his accomplice Chiren (Jennifer Connelly) who seek Alita's heart for their own nefarious agenda. Alita must slowly come to terms with what she is while defending those closest to her from an onslaught of dangerous and blood-thirsty cyborg warriors.

ALITA clocks in at just over 2 hours and, for those 120+ minutes, the audience is free. Free from the constraints of the modern blockbuster machine where every mega-budget movie seems to be made on an assembly line of capes and super powers, populated by a cast that spits generic lines with the sole purpose of connecting threads to cinematic universes and spin-offs. Free from a film that gets to the good part only to snap the credits with an oft-unfulfilled promise of a sequel or franchise of interconnected pieces. ALITA is a film that flaunts its strengths and fully embraces with open arms the source material with all of its drama, heart, nuance, action, and visual flair.

I cannot stress enough how important this movie is. Like similar Japanese anime adapted films that came before it such as SPEED RACER in 2008 and GHOST IN THE SHELL in 2017, ALITA has the charm and goofy heart of the former with the mythology-driven, cybernetic action and love story of the later.

The heart of this film, like the character's own, is atomic powered. You instantly sympathize with Alita and her big googly eyes because of how convincing Rosa Salazar's portrayal of her us. She is 100% genuine with Alita's childlike innocence and she can flip that switch when Alita's battleborn bloodlust manifests itself as her memories and combat skills come back to her. The father-daughter relationship between her and Christoph Waltz's Dr. Ido is of course the definition of wholesome and her teenage girl love-affair with Hugo will break down the walls of your tired heart, build them back up, and literally dismantle them with bare bloody fingers. Every character in ALITA has a story to them, and all of these stories are told with such sincerity from the performers that you never feel like you're watching some “movie” that was just made for fun. I stated earlier this was a passion project from James Cameron, and that passion shows in every facet of the film's production.

Robert Rodriguez might have seemed an odd choice by James Cameron to direct, but once viewing the film you begin to see why. Rodriguez is a filmmaker who has his “ear to the ground” so to speak, directing such urban fantasies like SIN CITY, DESPERADO, and ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO and this artistic language he has comes across beautifully in the final product. The action is kinetic and insane, but never rambunctious and incoherent. Even during the film's climactic Motorball race/battle where about 10 different cybernetic antagonists are battling Alita in a sort of “rollerball keepaway” spectacle sport you are always spatially aware of the action and combatants. It is nothing short of mesmerizing and might be one of the greatest action scene put to film in the 2010's.

ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL is a must-see. An absolute MUST-SEE. It is easily my favorite film of the year so far and will likely cling onto the Top 5 as 2019 dwindles down. The film bleeds hope and uses it to paint bright red across a stale Hollywood canvas. They simply don't make them like this anymore, and without you to go see it...they might never make them again.

ALITA is now playing everywhere.