Skip to main content

Sandy Journal

Dan's Review: "Alita: Battle Angel" Looks Cool, but Drags in the Middle

Feb 12, 2019 06:24PM ● By Dan Metcalf

Rosa Salazar in Alita: Battle Angel - © 2019 20th Century Fox.

Alita: Battle Angel (20th Century Fox)

Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language.

Starring Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Ed Skrein, Jackie Earle Haley, Keean Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Eiza González, Lana Condor, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Idara Victor, Marko Zaror, Elle LaMont, Leonard Wu, Jeff Fahey, Rick Yune, Casper Van Dien.

Written by James Cameron and Laeta Kalogridis, based on the "Gunnm" manga series by Yukito Kishiro.

Directed by Robert Rodriguez.



James Cameron doesn’t do anything the easy way. He doesn’t make simple “indie” films, and all his projects usually involve grand (expensive) special effects in movies with running times of over two hours (his two biggest hits are Titanic and Avatar, the two largest box office hits of all time, both running right around three hours). One Cameron project in the works for more than a decade is Alita: Battle Angel, based on the Japanese “Gunnm” manga, a series about a futuristic cyborg girl. Cameron had originally planned to release Alita before Avatar, with several planned sequels. With three more Avatar installments now in production, Cameron turned his Alita script over to Robert Rodriguez to direct. After so many delays, Alita is finally in theaters this weekend. Was it worth the wait?

Set several hundred years in the future after an apocalyptic “fall,” it’s the story of cybernetic doctor Dyson Ido (Christoph Walz), who discovers the torso of a cyborg in a junkpile beneath the floating city of Zalem, where the rich and powerful live, thriving on the goods and services provided by the rabble who live in Iron City. Ido rebuilds the cyborg using parts he previously made for his daughter before she was killed by a rogue cyborg years earlier. He names the cyborg Alita (voiced and motion captured from Rosa Salazar) and tries to keep her from attracting attention or getting into trouble. Alita’s natural martial arts talents surface after she experiences the “motorball” sport and some shady people begin to take notice. Alita soon learns that Ido is also a “hunter-killer” or bounty hunter who tracks down rogue cyborgs on behalf of Zalem. Alita registers as a hunter-killer herself, hoping the fighting will bring back lost memories. Meanwhile, Ido’s ex-wife Chiren (Jennifer Connelly) builds professional motorball cyborg athletes under the management of Vector (Mahershala Ali), who is secretly working for the evil Zalem rule “Nova,” who wants more than ever to find Alita and exploit her talents. Alita also falls in love with Hugo (Keean Johnson) who also secretly works for Vector by trapping motorball athletes and stripping them of valuable parts. Meanwhile. Nova uses Vector to dispatch other hunter-killers to track down and kill Alita, who upgrades her robotic body with a battle chassis she discovers inside a crashed alien ship. The conflict reaches its zenith as Alita battles the hunter-killers while trying to compete in the motorball games. She must face the evil Nova while trying to save the ones she loves.

Alita: Battle Angel is full of stunning visuals (created by New Zealand’s WETA) and several intense actions scenes. Rosa Salazar’s motion-capture performance coupled with the incredible effects is a wonder to behold. Like other James Cameron fare, Alita’s story is epic but tends to get bogged down in some of the details of the back-story, slowing the action to a halt in the middle act. It’s tough to wrap your head around all the politicking and history that culminates in Alita’s story, and I found myself not caring very much about many of the side characters.

Despite the minor confusion and lack of context, Alita: Battle Angel is interesting enough to check out, especially if you like well-constructed action scenes and awesome visual effects.

I’m not sure Alita will progress to a series of sequels, but the groundwork is there for improvement.   

Alita: Battle Angel Trailer