Alita Battle Angel review Rosa Salazar Christoph Waltz

Year: 2019
Director(s): Robert Rodriguez
Writer(s): James Cameron, Laeta Kalogridis, Yushito Kishiro
Region of Origin: US
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
Rating: PG-13
Digital, Color, 122 mins

Synopsis: A deactivated female cyborg is revived, but cannot remember anything of her past life and goes on a quest to find out who she is. (Source)

Alita: Battle Angel is a dense cyberpunk mixtape. It isn’t bringing anything new to the table, but it doesn’t have to. What it does, it does very well, hitting all the right beats for fans of an underserved genre. Despite hinting at some quaint 90s Manga roots, the film has ideas that are timeless, rendering an origin story that feels urgent. Armed with a sincere script, Robert Rodriguez has delivered a dazzling blockbuster. It’s replete with an awe-inspiring world and features an empowering heroine that we can’t help but cheer for. 

Taking place years into the future and after an event called The Fall, a gifted doctor named Dr. Ido (Christoph Waltz) stumbles upon a monumental discovery. While scavenging Iron City’s junkyard metropolis, he finds the disembodied ruins of female cyborg. Since the body is gifted with a strong heart and an intact human brain, Ido’s quickly able to revive her. Once awake, Ido names the cyborg Alita (Rosa Salazar), after his deceased daughter. Struggling from amnesia, Alita doesn’t remember her past, but is eager to start fresh. She’s soon embroiled in an insidious conspiracy, however, and begins to learn that she was made for a very specific reason. As the last of her kind, Alita searches for answers about her past while rising against a society ravaged by oppression. 

Alita Battle Angel Rosa Salazar

There’s a lot going on in the film at any given time, but Rodriguez carefully filters all of it through Alita’s innocence and search for identity. Alita’s fearlessness and thirst for life is the core of the film, and it’s both endearing and exciting. The backdrop of Alita’s story is full of mechs, a volatile sport called Motorball, bounty hunters and an exploration on the nature of consciousness. With Alita leading the charge, this massive backdrop and accompanying mythology feel intimate. Somehow, everything coheres into a melting pot of futuristic wonder. The final product is equal parts pulse-pounding adventure and heartfelt coming-of-age. 

Of course, dystopian stories are nothing without accomplished world-building, and Rodriguez’s efforts here are wholly impressive. After building a career on smart, DIY efforts, his first real jump into big-budget spectacle retains the purpose and brevity of his smaller films. Nothing feels wasted. Everything is in service to character, including the film’s numerous action scenes, which are diverse and boast stunning VFX. These scenes are even staged and choreographed with clarity and purpose. There are frankly a lot of stand out moments throughout, and if there’s ever a film meant to be seen on the big screen, it’s this one. From the sleek cyborg designs to the arsenal of futuristic weapons, there’s a lot to love in this, and a lot to soak in. 

Alita Battle Angel review Rosa Salazar still

Performances vary, but the ones that matter come through. Most important, Rosa Salazar is incredible as Alita. Despite her face being hidden behind CGI, the mocap performance is stellar. Salazar gives us a fully formed woman who we can both relate to and aspire to be, embodying strength but also understated vulnerability. Salazar is the glue to the film, making the obvious CGI feel real and lived in. Without her and the qualities she brings to Alita, this thing just wouldn’t hit as hard as it does. Christoph Waltz’s Ido is also great. Waltz gets the chance to steal a few scenes of his own, and lends the entire thing an undeniable dramatic heft. Supporting, it’s nice to see Jennifer Connelly get a substantial role despite being a bit convenient but Mahershala Ali isn’t given much to do. Keean Johnson’s Hugo is a tad perfunctory, but props to that gone-too-soon Jeff Fahey cameo!

In a lot of ways, Alita: Battle Angel feels a bit like Hunger Games spliced with the Matrix, and that’s not a bad thing. The story can be a bit tweeny at times, but gives us a satisfying heroine navigating adult themes. In this way, the film leaves us with just the right amount of substance while still thrilling with its relentless pace. Though it’s definitely the first of a series that may not happen, it’s stands on its own and is overflowing with heart. Marvel movies aside, this film is a solid big-budget thrill ride with a sci-fi fantasy world that’s hard to resist.