Alita: Battle Angel (2019) – Film Review

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Director: Robert Rodriguez
Cast: Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly
Certificate: 12

by Roger Crow / @RogerCrow

As a rule of thumb when it comes to CGI in live action films, never have more than a third of your frame rendered by computer, especially when dealing with cyborgs. Anything more and it looks as fake as a six pound note.

A few years ago, the remake of RoboCop proved that as the law enforcer was stripped down to little more than a head. It looked awful. With Alita: Battle Angel, clearly nobody got the hypothetical memo either.

The long cherished project from James Cameron was originally going to be a thing in the late noughties, but it came down to a coin toss between that and Avatar. While Cameron’s 2009 movie broke box office records, Alita languished in development hell.

One day James was chatting to old friend Robert Rodriguez, who was desperate to see Alita. As Cameron had a hefty screenplay worthy of at least two movies, he entrusted the project to the Desperado helmer. Robert worked from dusk till dawn to cut it down to one movie, and when he succeeded, Cameron gave him the green light to direct.

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“Bursting with life”

The result is a curious beast. Like Ghost in the Shell, another live action conversion of a classic manga, this boasts some terrific design work. It’s a delight to see so much texture and colour rather than the steel grey tones which dominates many futuristic movies.

Rosa Salazar is great as the fallen cyborg. She has a human brain which is grafted onto a robot body by likeable tech expert Christoph Waltz. Yes, there are shades of Pinocchio, but also Dracula’s Van Helsing, as the boffin has a shadowy night job. Is he a serial killer? Well, that would be telling.

I can reveal that every frame of the movie is bursting with life. Yet when it comes to the villains, they’re so badly realised, with corny, cackling dialogue and a tendency to repeat phrases like “little flea” every time they encounter Alita, I had to watch it in bursts because I was so annoyed.

Jennifer Connelly also stars with Mahershala Ali, so there’s no shortage of Oscar winners here. Just a shame their dialogue is so corny.

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Brit Ed Skrein (Deadpool) is a human face and ears with a cool robot body. He looks awful and wonderful at the same time. I didn’t buy it for a second, like Dwayne Johnson’s dire CG alter ego in The Mummy Returns.

The Romeo and Juliet-style story is okay, and the army of effects workers clearly did a lot of overtime. As did the sound design team, who ensure every second sounds amazing.

But as impressive as the eye candy is, and the cast, it just feels like that awful anime conversion Speed Racer from a decade ago. Lots of colour and flashy moves, but essentially an overlong video game cut scene. It also teases a view at the sky city which dominates the story, but leaves it for a sequel which may never happen.

If it does, less CG, more reality and better villains, and I’m happy to pay another tenner for the experience.


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