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‘Alita: Battle Angel’ Review: Dir. Robert Rodriguez (2019)

by Paul Heath

Alita Battle Angel review: In the early 1990s, filmmaker Robert Rodriguez exploded onto the indie scene with an extremely low-budget action feature film titled El Mariachi. It was a film that cost just $7000, funded by the young director by undergoing drug testing as a lab rat at a research facility in his home state of Texas. The film propelled him onto the world stage and, after being picked up by a major studio, was a massive hit scoring a reported $2 million in takings. While the story of the film’s development and production is the stuff of Hollywood lore, its filmmaker’s continuing legacy is equally as legendary. 28 years on, and Rodriguez is back on the big screen with a film having a reported budget of up to $200 million.

Fox

Alita Battle Angel review

Expectation for Alita: Battle Angel is certainly high, not least from fans of the original manga (Battle Angel Alita by Yukito Kishiro) on which it is based, and the fact that the feature has a script co-written by James Cameron (who also co-produces). There’s also the whizz of Rodriguez himself, who has always come up with the goods with limited cash, squeezing every amount of creative juice from the budgets he’s been given. As a life-long Rodriguez fan, I was also keen to see if he could deliver with perhaps of money rather than figure out a ‘creative way’ out to not having enough of the green stuff – btw, his production tome Rebel Without A Crew, a diary his days making of El Mariachi, is still well worth seeking out. I have to say, this is perhaps Rodriguez’s biggest and best achievement yet. It is absolutely mind-blowing.

Set in the 26th Century, Alita: Battle Angel focuses upon a dystopian future where dwellers of the former United States are largely living in a sunken city after a catastrophic technological fall. One such dweller is Dr. Ido (Christoph Waltz), a scientist with a tragic past who, in the film’s opening scenes, discovers the dismembered body of cyborg Alita (Rosa Salazar) on a rubbish dump in the sprawling Iron City. He sees that the young female’s heart and brain are still very much intact and functioning, so takes her back to his lab to give her a brand-new robotic body. Alita wakes from her ‘sleep’ with no recollection of who she is or where she has come from but, after being taken under the wing of Ido and his assistant, Nurse Gerha (Idara Victor), attempts to make a new. It is here where she meets Keean Johnson’s dashing bike-riding rebel Hugo, and his band of brothers who have a deep affection for popular contact sport Motorball. Their friendship unlocks hidden physical abilities in Alita, and through slow flashback it is revealed that the young woman’s past has more to it than she, or those around her first thought.

It’s best to stop from revealing further plot details as the film really is a roller coaster ride with surprises around every corner. Both Rodriguez’s and indeed Cameron’s style seep through the into proceedings from beginning to end, the movie a massive assault on the senses every second of the two-hour running time.

Those couple of hours fly by in a heartbeat, the impacting visuals and stunning effect work virtually flawless throughout. The film is huge undertaking, and indeed a massive roll of the dice to see if audiences engage with it. I knew nothing of the source material but was engaged and entertained non-stop. A lot of this is down to Cameron, Laeta Klogridis and Rodriguez’s script – a heart rendering tale of parenthood and finding oneself, all with a massive sprinkling of girl power from a dynamite entirely motion-capped performance by the faultless Salazar as the title character. Without empathy for her character, there really is no movie, and her Alita is both fiery and delicate in equal measures – perfectly captured by the actor and indeed everyone else involved. Oscar winners Waltz, and a villainous Mahershala Ali are also exceptional, especially the former, as too is Jennifer Connolly in a particularly tough role to pull off.

Related: New character posters for Alita: Battle Angel

The narrative and execution are darker than expected, the film very much deserving the higher rating that it has received from censors. This could something that may put off some fans perhaps expecting a lighter young-adult tale, but in my view is much the better for the harder scenes, particularly the ear-busting action set pieces littered throughout.

Taking beats from ‘Bourne’, the world-building nature of Avatar set in a Blade Runner-esque future, along with even a tiny hint of Titanic, Alita: Battle Angel surprised me in a very positive way. It’s one of those films that you just hope connects to an audience as it obviously has much bigger plans in store for potential future sequels. It’s a difficult genre – for every Avatar there’s a Valerian (though I quite liked that too) or, in more recent memory, Mortal Engines, but make no mistake, this is a world very much worth visiting, and by the climactic jaw-dropping scenes, some of which left me absolutely gasping at the screen, you’ll be punching the air and screaming for more.

Heart-stopping, top-notch popcorn fare. Seriously, one of the best films of its kind since Avatar.

Alita Battle Angel review by Paul Heath, January 2019.

Alita Battle Angel is released in cinemas on 7th February 2019.

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