Alita: Battle Angel is Not Very Good

With a $200 million budget, it seems like Alita: Battle Angel had a lot spent in the marketing department. Its first trailer was released in December 2017, with plenty of additional advertisements and featurettes stuffed down our throats since. During the last six months especially, James Cameron has been popping up using his producer credit to repeatedly ask us to spend money on the film. But Alita is just another decent story that has been ruined in an attempt to craft the next big generic Young Adult franchise. All logic has been thrown out of the window for something more in the vein of Twilight, Divergent or The Hunger Games.

The year is 2563 and everything is terrible. Iron City, the film's setting, is an almost lawless society of partly robotic working class peasants whilst the wealthy upper class, in the sky city of Zalem, look down on those beneath them in disregard. Just like in real life.
Doctor Dyson Ido, a cyber surgeon played by Christoph Waltz, wanders through a junkyard and discovers a mostly destroyed cyborg containing a living human brain. Dyson sucks up the opportunity, taking the cyborg home and cleaning her up. He adds some robotic limbs and gives her the name "Alita", realising she doesn't remember anything about herself or her past life. Followed by a quick tour around Iron City with endless exposition, Alita conveys an eccentric yet independent innocence, making you start to become enamoured with the character. That is until she falls in love with literally the first boy she comes into contact with. Where does the story go from here? What is the main goal driving the plot forward? Honestly, I'm still not entirely sure. In efforts to condense and merge parts of the beloved source material that is the 1990 manga, it speeds through everything in order to cram in as much as possible, while still leaving Alita battle-ready for the shamelessly implicit sequel. The result of this? The story is a mess. I couldn't even tell you where the film split between its first, second and third acts. Scenes are riddled with constant exposition and events are connected in a rushed, nonsensical manner. Even the film's big-bad cyborg that Alita has to fight is nothing more than an irritatingly dull thug who quickly overstays his welcome. Then you've got Mahershala Ali, one of the best actors working today, playing who is supposed to be the main villain but is instead sidelined to appearing in scenes of generic, cryptic Bond villain dialogue for the majority of the runtime. Then there's an even bigger villain teased for the whole film but is of course left out because these guys will need you to spend your money on Alita 2 in a few years.

It's not the fact that it's ALL bad. The world of Iron City is incredibly well made in tribute to its source material. There are shots that are literally taken from the panels of the manga, capturing that rustic 90's aesthetic that comics of that decade had of the distant future, almost matched by the great CGI of the cyborgs living in it. Christoph Waltz is the best part of Alita: Battle Angel, being the perfect casting of the kind, warm-hearted genius that his manga counterpart was. Nevertheless, it's not the world or its flashy effects that are the problem. It's the story that takes place in it. The beginning of Alita's story in the manga has her father-daughter relationship with Doctor Ido at the centre, emotionally and mentally developing the personality of a mature badass. She makes mistakes but she learns from them, developing the confidence of a capable protagonist young readers could look up to. This film, on the other hand, pushes the Doctor and Alita's development to the sidelines for the sake of unwanted love interest, Hugo. Bloody Hugo.
Originally being introduced much later in the manga, Hugo is pushed forward to steal the spotlight from Doctor Ido, banishing Christoph Waltz to the sidelines to walk Alita through the repetitive oral essays of exposition in what feels like almost all of Hugo's scenes. As mentioned previously, despite coming so close to caring for Alita as a character, that admiration begins to slow the second she starts to fall for the cute boy she doesn't know as soon as her eyes are laid on him. It progresses into a forced, cringey love story that makes Katniss and Peeta from the last two Hunger Games films actually look like a decent couple. Love's unwelcome element cements itself as the focus of the story hereon, being the backdrop to events that would be much more exciting without Hugo's involvement. No matter how much my hopes were briefly raised by a half decent action sequence, they would quickly drop with the inevitable return of the love story that nobody cares about, awful dialogue and the characterisation of Alita herself.

A combination of an uneven performance by Rosa Salazar and poor writing made me go from loving Alita as a character to hating her at a record speed. In scenes where she's supposed to be the hero, she comes off more as a reckless brat, with enough over-the-top angry facial expressions mid-shout to make you want to pause it for a minute, just for the sake of getting a good laugh out. That brings me to the full extent of how bad this writing is: me and my friends who I saw this in the cinema with, we couldn't stop laughing. In moments where Alita is giving some form of half-arsed speech, jumping on a table Spider-Man style for the sake of emphasis, or offering to sell her literal heart for a hot guy she met two days ago, it feels like a middle finger to every great female protagonist. The only form of development on Alita's part is based entirely around this one attractive male love interest. I mean why worry about anything else, or even her relationship with her compassionate father figure who gave her a new life, when you can just lazily shift focus onto the hot guy who'll provide the obligatory shirtless shot for the sake of wooing the 14 year-old girls in the audience?

When you stub your toe for the 12th time in two hours

A quick bonus mention of a moment where Alita: Battle Angel takes itself far too seriously too, so slight spoilers here: in a way of trying to create a different-from-the-manga emotional attachment to Doctor Ido's backstory, we get a flashback sequence about his daughter, who Alita was named after. A junkie patient of the doctor's raids his clinic in the middle of the night. Dyson confronts him, with his wheelchair-bound daughter rolling behind him. Despite having no plot-feasible reason to, and with the path towards the door being wide open, the junkie casually decides to walk over to the daughter and punch her in the face, unexpectedly killing her. Other films or series that have executed this type of death-of-a-loved-one backstory much better make this sort of tragedy sensical and natural to the flow of the story being told. This version, on the other hand, is so ridiculously written and poorly acted, you're only left wondering why it was put there in the first place. It's so random and unnecessary, and unintentionally the funniest part of the film. It almost feels like it was something taken from the blooper reel by mistake. They really wanted to hammer home that we should care about these characters more, to the point where they didn't stop to think whether scenes like this were necessary. This was meant to be the film's saddest moment, and I couldn't take it seriously at all due to how horrifically it was acted. Nevertheless, it made for some great laughs.

Final Thoughts

Alita: Battle Angel was in production hell since 2003 and this becomes glaringly obviously when you start to pick up on the kind of typical tropes that you got tired of years ago. Taking what was originally a fully action packed, thrilling and even occasionally funny story full of genuine heart, Alita has been twisted into a comically bad love story with decent effects.
It's not the fact that the movie diverges so much from the manga source material, but that it's simply a poorly written trainwreck in it's own right. The source material merely shows how much better it could have been! It was like James Cameron and director Robert Rodriquez went into adapting Alita with completely narrow and outdated mindsets. It's like they thought an epic story about a headstrong heroine cyborg beating technologically enhanced villains to death, whilst developing a beautifully fleshed out parent-child relationship with her creator, was too "boring", and just decided to dismantle it so it would be more digestible for young adult audiences. But if the whole "Alita falls for a hot dude she has just met" character arc is the best way to go instead of that original epic tale, then there's just no hope for the world anymore.
In the way that The Room is the best bad film ever made, with the writing and acting being so awful that it's hilarious, Alita: Battle Angel is the 2019 equivalent only with a much bigger budget. 

Rating: 3/10

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