Alita: Battle Angel

Drew's Hi-Res headshot
Drew Russom

FROM BLUE TO CHROME

James Cameron has become synonymous with many films of this and last generation: Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Titanic, Aliens, and Avatar. All of these endeavors’ toting genre defining attributes­­­­­­ whether it be make-up , sets, props, or special and digital effects. All of these films being a box office smash with the only one to top James Cameron being James Cameron. I draw attention to Cameron’s latest project AVATAR, because I draw the biggest parallel between that and the subject of this article. Alita: Battle Angel is a visual spectacle that leans the viewer into the realm of intrigue, yet lends little to character depth or emotional gratification in the narrative.

I will state first off, that I am not familiar at all with the manga the film is adapting; I am judging the picture on its own merits. Also, spoilers will be revealed in this article as they will pertain to some. all be it, subjective criticisms. With both of those disclaimers aside, let us march to what you want to know, “why do you hate this movie”! I do not hate Alita, I don’t even dislike it. The film starts off with establishing the setting of this post-apocalyptic, cyber punk universe where the greener grass is not on the other side, but suspended in mid-air in the form of Zalem, as clear indication of Heaven and with Hell taking the form of Iron City.

In the outskirts of Hell, under the shadow of Heaven, Dr. Ido finds, played by Christopher Waltz, finds a broken body amongst the disregarded and the unwanted. After suiting her into a new cybernetic body and dawning the young amnesic with the name Alita, Ido begins the journey of teaching his adopted daughter about her new world in hopes of rekindling the memory of her past life. Alita, with her extra-large eyes, her sparkling smile, and Rosa Salazar’s great delivery convince you of her child like naivety and ignite your own protective instinct. Slowly, but surely, Alita starts to chain the few links of her past; forming the connections to her former life and her present purpose, yet this is where my first and persistent issues rears itself.

I have always been of the opinion is that genre tropes or conventions are not innately bad, it is how the film approaches them. Does the story use them in a satirical manner, criticizes the very thing it is utilizing, or does it use said conventions in the same interesting and tired manner that cinema, throughout its century long history, had exhausted to death. The amnesic protagonist is not only an exhausted trope in film, but also in books, and video games as well, and Alita falls head long into it. Alita, whoever she was three centuries ago, is a soldier and a well equipped one. She is sufficient in combat, as well as steadfast in the face of her obstacles, and in that I lose the ability to relate to her.

Let me take this time to make this statement, I love the Bourne trilogy; those that have seen those films might know where I am going with this train of thought. I think these films, that Paul Greengrass has taken over since the second film, have a better impact even with a similar trope of an amnesic protagonist. At the end of the rainbow that Bourne and the audience have been following, there is no pot of gold, just blood and broken expectations. Jason sold his sold to the devil all in the name of patriotic service. The protagonist is also an antagonist that killed people with the only justification being that it was an order, and at the end of it all Jason doesn’t ride into the sunset, but is now free to choose his own path.

Jason is never built up as potential savior of people’s souls or their champion against an oppressor. I feel that Alita is being built up in this first film, and yes this will there will be a sequel or even a trilogy, to be the chosen one. It may be my personal exhaustion with the amnesic protagonist who just so happens to have the skills and will to achieve the impossible, but I do know that other properties have used it in a better way. I do realize that this trope can be used as a narrative tool, as a means to unveil key plot information to the main character at the same time as the audience; giving a unity of consciousness. If done poorly , it becomes a contrivance, a convenient method for which a less skilled writer reveals their plot twists separate from the main pacing of the film, which can decide for yourself on this one.

Please do not confuse my criticisms, I think that Cameron and Rodriguez actually care about this property and this film. Some things did not stick in my opinion, but to balance out the presented negativity, let me present some positivity. The films aesthetic is unapologetically anime in flavor, and intrigues the mind about the history of this world; what happened in the past, present and future. While some actors were either underutilized, Jennifer Connelly, or weren’t all that believable to me, the love interest, Rosa Salazar and Christophe Waltz were the best part of the movie in terms of acting and portraying their respective roles. This is the ultimate message of my review that despite being less cerebral sci-fi experience, I would say go out and support this film, mainly because we are starting to get well made American films that are more influenced by the anime style.

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