Directed by Robert Rodriguez
Alita: Battle Angel takes place on what looks to be the flimsy sets of the original Total Recall (1990). These are crowded, tiny streets bustling with improbable activity. There are street markets, street urchins, bounty hunters and youth with reckless abandon. Another factor making the diverse community all the more diverse is that just about everyone, it seems, is modified with artificial limbs or, in the case of our heroine, is a cyborg altogether.
She is Alita, a brain found by a doctor (Christoph Waltz) in a scrap yard and then attached to the bionic body he had made for his young, disabled daughter before she was killed. There is a lot going on under the surface, but this being a relatively innocent, family friendly movie (as with other Robert Rodriguez sci-fi movies) it’s never really deconstructed in any meaningful way.
Alita can’t remember who she was, though certain abilities and soon certain flashes of memory will remind her that she was some sort of warrior (who fought a battle on the moon, no less).
The film isn’t really about anything, as far as I can tell, outside of Alita learning to become herself, like with many other coming of age movies. She discovers love in a young man named Hugo who of course has a dark secret, she becomes enamored with the only sport in town, she discovers that her father may or may not be a futuristic Jack the Ripper (but turns out he’s not), and she gets involved in a community of bounty hunters.
But for the life of me I can’t quite remember what significance any of this has except that it enables her to learn a little bit more about herself, which is sweet and positive and all that, but there’s so much here, to this world and to these characters, that is just rushed through and left behind. It’s the world of a television miniseries, not a single movie.
And though it is indeed family friendly, it’s quite disturbing, just watching all these characters routinely de-limbed, maimed and decapitated. Sure they are closer to transformers than people, but they have personalities and, surely, souls, and to watch these characters so often hacked to bits is pretty morbid.
That they are so quick to adapt is perhaps a positive message, about self-improvement or refusing to dwell on the past, but such subtext, to the degree that it is or is not present, is left up to you to decide. It’s presented in the world and in the story, but it feels like the type of thing that may not have been digested and injected into the script, instead the accidental thematic consequence of all these visually spectacular concepts.
It’s a weird film, like a fever dream you might have after binge watching The Matrix, Blade Runner and every young adult movie ever made. It’s a blended margarita of ideas, characters and themes, and it boils down to, well I’m not really sure. It’s kind of fun, silly, and there are a bunch of actors here having some fun with their roles.
The ‘big eyes’ thing is a bit strange, partially since no one else in the movie has them, and sometimes it struggles to supersede the uncanny valley, but the character is imbued with enough heart and childlike innocence that you can’t help but root for her. That there is a whole scene in which her “father” designs for her a more womanlike body, well that’s kind of strange.
Up Next: Pokemon Detective Pikachu (2019), Pet Sematary (2019), Sword of Trust (2019)