Some Style, No Substance (Alita: Battle Angel)

Robert Rodriguez. James Cameron. One Directing. One Producing. Two legends of Hollywood, working together for the first time. It was surely a match made in heaven, but despite some triumphant technical efforts, they both forgot the most important rules of filmmaking. Give your film a good plot, and an actual ending. No, really…

My screening was doomed as soon as it started. Being a member of Odeon Limitless, I was able to get an advanced screening of the film. It was unfortunately in 3D (and I will comment on this later) but the big selling point was that there’d be special extra footage just for us. These included a Behind the Scenes look at the film, and a Q&A with the filmmakers. You only need to go to Twitter to learn how terrible this was. The Q&A was shown BEFORE the film, with spoilers being mentioned. We were forced to watch this feature before getting to watch the film, and rather than adding insight into the film, it just consisted of 20 minutes of the main stars pleasuring each other for affection. It was a complete waste of time and immediately pissed me off before the film had even started.

So, the film finally begins, and very quickly I realise something important. I don’t remotely care about these characters. There is no proper set up to them, and the film kind of just begins unfolding without exposition. This is what I thought, until it dawned on me that in fact, the whole first forty minutes is the introductory exposition. You can only imagine how boring this is for an action film.

The characters in this are mere impressions of characters from other films. Rosa Salazar stars in the titular role, a character who is basically Wonder Woman, with the same romance-fuelled story dictating the majority of her character growth. The film is notable for having (I lost count but at least) four different scenes of Alita crying while other people wipe away her tears. How’s that for female empowerment?

Supporting her are (OSCAR WINNER) Christoph Waltz as the father figure with little to do; (OSCAR WINNER) Mahershala Ali as a vague bad guy with little to do; (OSCAR WINNER) Jennifer Connelly as the bad guys assistant with very little to do, and a variety of other actors as equally rubbish CGI characters. It’s astounding that with such huge talent on screen, I have no interest in any of them.

It should be mentioned that though the characters themselves are rubbish, and the design is sometimes stupid, the CGI work in this film is astonishing. The technical proficiency of Alita herself is amazing, and she has been completely created digitally to a photo-real standard. This is almost unheard of with human characters, and this should be commended.

The script and narrative are very cliché and badly done, with cringe-inducing lines littered throughout. There are moments of bad-assery from Alita which are very cool, but most of the dialogue is clunky and doesn’t work. The low point? “Does it not bother you that I am not all human?”. “You are the most human person I’ve ever met”. Ouch.

So, the elephant in the room. Alita: Battle Angel doesn’t actually have an ending. There’s a celebrity character reveal, then it stops and the credits start rolling, but the narrative isn’t remotely wrapped up. James Cameron clearly feels that this is a franchise in the making, so decided that ending the story even remotely would be a bad idea. The story ‘closes’ with deaths and shocks that feel very much like the end of a second act before the revenge-filled third act. But this third act never comes, meaning that entire character arcs aren’t tied up, emotional deaths aren’t avenged, and characters fall completely off the radar. Not only that, but for a film sporting huge scenery and a $200 million price tag, the ending has no action whatsoever. It just fizzles out like a damp match, and this really, really doesn’t work. It is atrocious to see Hollywood’s Sequel-itus in such full effect, and genuinely left me with a very sour taste that has not yet left my mouth.

This film finished shooting two years ago. TWO YEARS they have had to watch this, and not once did they stop and think “hmm, that narrative doesn’t actually resolve itself”. The film was initially scheduled for release in July 2018, and even after being pushed back, the reason wasn’t to change the ending. I just cannot comprehend how on earth something this monumental just fell under the radar. James Cameron has produced some of the most iconic endings in movie history, that provide emotional closure while leaving open doors. To not even attempt to end the story feels like an insult to his fans, and this is such a disappointment.

Perhaps tomorrow I will be more kind to Alita. For now however, I am just deeply angry. The action in it, while confusing in parts, is effective enough, and the technical proficiency should be commended. However, for two absolute bloody legends of cinema, the narrative and lack of an ending (I MEAN COME ON!!) is horrifically problematic, and cannot be resolved with some nice shiny computer effects. If the film had a satisfying close, two stars would be in order. It does not, and this is where we have been left.

Oh, and as per, the 3D is an absolute waste and all it does is dull the picture. Don’t bother with it.

5 stars 1

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