For years Hollywood has unsuccessfully attempted to transition manga and anime stories into live action. I have heard countless arguments that adapting these mediums into live action is impossible to successfully execute. I have debated with numerous people that it is possible with the right story and creative team behind a project. That’s a sentiment that I still believe after watching this film. Now if you were to ask me whether not I still believe Hollywood should try to adapt anime or manga into live action, my answer would be probably not. I’ve finally lost interest and faith in seeing this transition of mediums ever happen. And that’s all because of the huge disappointment that is Alita: Battle Angel.
Without spoiling anything, Alita: Battle Angel is the story of a cyborg girl trying to find herself. After being found in a scrap yard and revived by a cyborg doctor, Alita must attempt to regain her memories and reconnect with who she is. And that’s pretty much it for the story. It’s pretty simple, if you don’t include the several other incredibly useless storylines thrown into this film. Alita is a film that suffers from being overstuffed to the point of breaking down into sci-fi trash. It’s a two hour robo-fight that is unbearably messy, mindlessly generic, and ruthlessly boring. Honestly, there isn’t much of a story present here at all. Alita lost her memory and needs to punch her way into discovering who she is. That doesn’t seem to be a story that is worth making a $200 million dollar film to tell, but what do I know?
Director Robert Rodriguez (Spy Kids and Sin City) clearly wants this to be the first chapter in a franchise. This film is not a complete story that can be enjoyed by just watching this one piece of work. The majority of the movie is teasing elements for sequels that may not even come. It’s disheartening that the hopes of this becoming a film series led to some pretty poor directing and writing choices. The film is more of an idea of what a successful Alita story could be if it were told in long form. The final result is lifeless and flawed, leaving much to be desired.
One of the movie’s biggest flaws is how inorganic and unearned every character moment and relationship feel. The relationships feel unrealistic and lifeless because the writing never builds or fleshes them out in truthful ways. They’re cliché movie relationships that are inserted without the writers ever doing the work to truly earn them. I rolled my eyes at emotional conversations in the film because they happened without any actual development to back them up. There are moments in the third act that are so undeserved, unnatural, and cringe-inducing that I wanted to leave the theater. In the end, the film settles for cheesy melodrama with no real emotional stakes.
Many of you reading this probably hope that Alita makes up for it’s mindless plot with great action or visuals. Well prepare to have your hopes shattered because this movie looks weird. The CGI effects look outstandingly fake for such an expensive blockbuster film. I was never once convinced that Alita was not a cartoon character on screen. She always looks fake and her gigantic eyes are distractingly creepy. The world itself is an ugly, overdone wasteland that you can’t get into due to the terrible visual effects. Despite the lackluster look overall, there are a couple of genuinely fun action scenes. The choreography is quite impressive, although the scenes lack any real thrill or emotional weight due to the poorly written story and characters.
Rosa Salazar is the only member of the cast who seems to have emotional investment in the film. She imbues Alita with as much energy and heart as she can, which is commendable considering the dreary movie centered around her. Christoph Waltz is passable as Dr. Ido but he comes off as aloof and lifeless for most of the movie. Jennifer Connelly seems incredibly bored playing a particularly horribly written character in the film. Keean Johnson’s performance is relatively flat but Hugo is a tedious character to endure. Mahershala Ali tries here but his character is all over the place and largely a let down in the end. I don’t really blame anyone here for how poorly their characters came across. They were dealt a terrible hand with such underdeveloped characters.
It’s hard for me to put my thoughts about Alita: Battle Angel into words because the movie is just a downright mess. I feel bad for everyone involved who surely hoped the film would be a colossal hit. If the film was concerned with being cohesive in any way and not just being cool, it might have been a massive success. Sadly, it’s the biggest cinematic misstep I’ve seen in a couple of years.