Entertainment » Movies

Alita: Battle Angel

by Kevin Taft
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Jul 9, 2019
'Alita: Battle Angel'
'Alita: Battle Angel'  

Available digitally today!

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After a few delays due to a crowded holiday release schedule, the James Cameron produced, Robert Rodriguez directed "Alita: Battle Angel" finally arrives in theaters.... and it's well worth the wait. Granted, it's only the beginning of February, but "Alita" is truly the first great movie of 2019. While it might be forgotten by year's end, it's an impressive spectacle that puts character first and that's something that shouldn't be taken for grantd.

The special effects in this epic might be front and center, but Rodriguez and screenwriters Cameron and Laeta Kalogridis ("Terminator: Genysis") allow the story to unfold without a lot of unnecessary balls-to-the-wall action. Oh, there's that, but it comes when it needs to. It doesn't knock the characters aside just to get audiences into the world.

Our introduction to the city of Scrapyard is fairly quiet. We see a monstrous city Tiphares floating in the sky, silently dropping trash and waste onto the earth below. There, amongst the metal and scraps of cyborgs, a Dr. Ito (Christophe Waltz) is seeking parts to use in his business of restoring cyborgs who need updating. There he spots the head and torso of a female cyborg he realizes is still alive, but in a sleep state. He takes her back to his lab, where he uses a cyborg body he had stored away to make the girl complete.

The girl (Rosa Salazar) finally wakes up but with no memory of her past. Dr. Ido names her Alita after his deceased daughter and he quickly becomes a father figure. She begins to learn about the world around her, what happened to it (it takes place 300 years after something called "The Fall") and what Hunter-Warriors are (they track down cyborg criminals). But memories of her past and the discovery of some pretty amazing fighting abilities make her realize there is something more to her past that needs to be understood. Along with her hot new friend Hugo (Keean Johnson) she tries to find her place in the world.

To be fair, special effects aside, "Alita" would not work if it wasn't for the effective and heartbreaking performance by Rosa Salazar. Using the latest in motion-capture technology, Salazar's facial expressions and body movements are captured so perfectly in the CGI character of Alita that when you see side by side comparisons, you realize you are literally seeing Salazar's performance onscreen — despite the bug eyed creation the Weta people have produced. Even when you know you're seeing something that isn't actually flesh and blood, you believe she is real and you never once doubt the heart and soul behind the character.

What's so impressive about the film is how it takes its time to establish the characters and the world. There is no Michael Bay rush to get to the head-pounding action. This feels - like "Bumblebee" before it - like a throwback to the action sci-fi spectacles of the '80s and '90s, where a fully-realized world was presented, inclusive of intriguing characters, a compelling (and easy to follow) storyline, and a far-out domain that young and old alike can partake in. This isn't a toy or videogame with mythology that only fans will understand. Despite being based on a manga by Yukito Kishiro, it's an accessible look into an innocent girl becoming a strong and confident woman. (Although, yes, a cyborg.)

The acting is stellar across the board, even though the heavy lifting by Salazar is the film's focus. Waltz eschews his usual slime ball role for a heartfelt father figure turn, and Jennifer Connelly (slightly underused) brings some gravity to the villainess role that goes a bit deeper than you'd think. A number of famous faces show up as CGI characters and robots, particularly the Hunter-Warriors and the cyborgs that participate in a Moto championship. (You'll spot Jeff Fahey ["The Lawnmower Man"], Casper Van Dien ["Starship Troopers"], Jai Courtney ["Terminator: Genisys"], and "Michelle Rodriguez ["Avatar"]). Golden Globe and Academy Award winner Mahershala Ali plays another of the villains, Vector, but he is underused, although still effective.

Don't let the cyber-punk posters and ad campaign turn you away from this gem. Men and women, young and old will all find something to enjoy here. And I won't lie: I unexpectedly shed a tear or two during the final act. This is spectacular and emotional entertainment that is well worth your time and money, especially on the biggest screen you can see it on, with the best sound, and in 3D (which I generally don't promote).

See and support this dynamic and fantastic world! This reviewer is all ready for the next chapter in Alita's remarkable saga.

Kevin Taft is a screenwriter/critic living in Los Angeles with an unnatural attachment to 'Star Wars' and the desire to be adopted by Steven Spielberg.

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