No one knew anything about Alita: Battle Angel when the teaser first dropped in late 2017, but this is apparently a project James Cameron has been planning since as early as 2000. Was it worth the wait?
Answer: heck yes.
Set five hundred years in the future, Dr. Dyson Ido (played by Christoph Waltz) finds a disembodied cyborg in a scrapyard with a human brain inside. He takes the cyborg home and rebuilds her, finding when she awakens that she has no memory of who she was before. As Alita learns to navigate her new life, Ido makes efforts to shield her from her mysterious past.
Rosa Salazar (Birdbox) plays the naive young cyborg, a dynamic character who mixes intense enthusiasm with youthful lightheartedness. Alita, while talking to Hugh, her human love interest opens her mechanical chest and pulls out a beating metal heart, telling him she'd literally give it to him if he wanted. When he tells her she doesn't have to do that, she puts it back. There's an awkward pause. Then, in a moment of levity, she breaks into a smile and goes: "Woo! That was intense, huh?"
The story gets a little confusing in the middle, mainly because there's so much world building that gets dumped on us. Fans will be pleased that the plot and characters stay true to the source material, but for newer viewers it might seem convoluted. Still, if you're interested in Alita's journey, you'll be able to forgive the exposition—there are plenty of robot brawls to make up for it.
When you see Alita for the first time, you'll notice how seamless and effective the computer-generated effects are. She's supposed to be a cyborg, something that resembles a human but isn't 100% there, so the Uncanny Valley effect actually helps the narrative. When we're watching her move through the scenes alongside Christoph Waltz and Jennifer Connelly, she doesn't look out of place or distracting.
Speaking of Jennifer Connelly, she does a pretty alright job. The same goes for Mahershala Ali, who is pretty much just playing himself. Honorable mentions go to Jorge Lendeborg Jr. and Lana Condor, who do a phenomenal job as the BFF sidekicks. It's a rarity to see side characters in an action movie give such honest performances. Look out for them.
The most unexpected thing in the entire movie, however, is that Christoph Waltz feels surprisingly miscast. Waltz's iconically pedantic speech pattern clashes with his role as a nurturing and protective father figure. His performance is genuine, and the chemistry between his character and Alita is convincing, but he comes off more like a stiff professor than a warm parent.
In a film like this, the acting can only be as good as the writing, which is pleasantly competent. James Cameron, who wrote the original script, manages to pack dense world-building with lots of believable character development. It runs into some pacing hiccups just past the halfway point, but if you can ignore the fake-out endings you'll be satisfied with the sequel bait at the very end.
The New York Times
That being said, this movie feels like it needed to be at least an hour longer. There are so many elements that get very small amounts of screen-time but carry a lot of heft in the overall narrative. The great war that plunged the city into ruin, the last sky-city of Zolem and its impact on the surface world, and what the heck happens to the food Alita eats if she has a robot body? Does she have a mechanical digestive system? These are things that could have been fleshed out, so here's hoping for an extended edition when the blu-ray drops.
Overall, this film is brimming with action and computer-generated spectacles, featuring arguably the best special effects since Avatar. It's got heart, and doesn't compromise on characters and story. Watch it on the biggest screen you can afford to. You won't be disappointed.
Ahmed Ashour is a media writer, tech enthusiast, and college student. He has a Twitter: @aahsure
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