Alita: Battle Angel Excels at World Building, but Not Much Else

It’s the future, three hundred years after a war called The Fall and now, a lot like a lot of other movies we’ve seen, humanity is divided between the elites who live on the floating city of Zalem and the other less desirable folk who live in Iron City.

It is in an Iron City junkyard where a doctor named Hugo finds a discarded cyborg with a human brain and brings her home and reconstructs her. Now named Alita, she has no memory of who she is or why she is and sets out to understand the new world she’s awoken in, but sinister elements from above and below become aware of her and soon, she finds herself in a struggle against oppression, tyranny, and future death sports.

Alita: Battle Angel represents a sight to behold, let me tell you. It’s been a while, at least since Avatar, that I have seen a world invest so much into world-building to even the smallest little details. The idea that people would be cyborgs in the future is not a new one, but the idea that they would customize their bodies like people customize their trucks is pretty neat. Seeing replacement arms with artistic etchings on people just walking down the street is really cool even though it’s never really explained just why the heck so many people in Iron City need replacement arms. I see maybe one or two every few months in real life… in Alita: Battle Angel, it seems like every third person has a robot arm.

The special effects are top notch and many of the action sequences, including the robot fights and death sports, are cleverly shot and staged and actually seem to come with consequences which I find very nice. No one really seems to walk away from a scuffle unharmed.

Now comes the downside: Alita: Battle Angel feels like it’s trying to cram too much material into a movie. I haven’t seen the Manga that this movie is based on, but, many times, this movie almost felt like it was paced like The Last Airbender where it was trying to shove an entire season into two hours and that just doesn’t work.

It makes the plot weird. Not really hard to follow, although there are a lot of question marks at the end, but just weird. Without spoiling too much: There is a sequence where a main character is killed, and then resurrected fairly cleverly, and then killed off again for no real reason other than the fact that the story was done with the character. This takes place in about the span of 10 minutes! I could see this being done over three or four half-hour episodes and it would have been fine, but to kill, bring back, and then kill again smacks of story-cramming.

This results in a plot that is all over the place. One minute, Alita is finding out who she is, then she’s a bounty hunter, then she’s in love, then she playing a weird amalgamation of Death Race and Rollerball, and then she’s trying to fight the violence inherent in the system. Couldn’t some of this stuff have been streamlined or even omitted?

The worst part is, despite all of the plot-cramming, Alita: Battle Angel doesn’t even have the decency to give the audience an ending. Yep, just like Green Lantern, The Golden Compass, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and Tim Burton’s The Planet of the Apes, we’re left with a cliffhanger that looks like we’ll never see get resolved.

Now, granted, I’m writing this on the Sunday after the movie opened, it’s going to win the weekend, but all forecasts says it’s going to be a flop. I’m so tired of movies assuming that sequels are guaranteed and using that as an excuse not to finish a story.

Okay, well, Alita: Battle Angel is obviously not perfect and has some major issues, but I was entertained with the world building and the action and special effects. The dialogue is stilted and clumsy and, I’m sorry… no one talks the way they do in this movie. It’s almost like the writer has never heard an actual conversation in their life.

Rosa Salazar turns in a fine performance of Alita, making her innocent and extremely likable although, I have to ask again, why Asian actors aren’t cast in these roles given that it is an adaptation of an Asian property. I think I saw one Asian actor and he’s on screen for maybe two minutes before he’s killed.

Still, despite the attention deficit plotting, I liked Alita: Battle Angel more than I didn’t like it, though I will admit that the like and dislike balances out to deliver a frustrating averageness to the final product.

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