Alita: Battle Angel (2019) - SPOILER-FREE Review

Directed by: Robert Rodriguez

Written by: James Cameron, Laeta Kalogridis, Robert Rodriguez

Starring: Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Ed Skrein, Jackie Earle Haley, Keean Johnson

Runtime: 125 min

From visionary filmmakers, James Cameron and Robert Rodriguez, comes an epic adventure of hope and empowerment. When Alita (Rosa Salazar) awakens with no memory of who she is in a future world she does not recognize, she is taken in by Ido (Christoph Waltz), a compassionate doctor who realizes that somewhere in this abandoned cyborg shell is the heart and soul of a young woman with an extraordinary past.

As Alita learns to navigate her new life and the treacherous streets of Iron City, Ido tries to shield her from her mysterious history while her street-smart new friend Hugo (Keean Johnson) offers instead to help trigger her memories. But it is only when the deadly and corrupt forces that run the city come after Alita that she discovers a clue to her past - she has unique fighting abilities that those in power will stop at nothing to control.

I’m writing this review one day after the Oscars night, and I can guarantee at least one thing: Alita: Battle Angel is getting a Best Visual Effects nomination and it’s probably going to win. Calling it now. There are no words that can describe how immersive, realistic and groundbreaking the IMAX 3D experience is. Weta Digital is undoubtedly the most incredible VFX/CGI company since the beginning of this millennium. From the Lord of the Rings trilogy to the Avatar movie(s) and through the most famous TV series of this time, Game of Thrones, Peter Jackson‘s company keeps surpassing the impossible.

Alita is a mix of Rosa Salazar‘s motion-capture performance and CGI animation, and it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve seen in a long time. Visuals are not the most important aspect of a film, they’re not even the key technical feature. The story and characters are and always will be the necessary ingredients for a movie’s success. That said, I’m also the first to defend that without remarkable technical achievements, a film won’t ever go above “very good.” If you want a movie to be one of the best of the year, a combination of compelling story/characters and great filmmaking attributes is essential. Robert Rodriguez‘s film nails the latter requirement, but has a lot of hits and misses regarding the former.

Like I wrote above, I have no vocabulary to describe how mind-blowing and eyegasmic this movie looks. If you’re intrigued by how fascinated I am, you know what to do: buy an IMAX ticket and watch it. The visuals alone compensate for the price of admission. Besides the jaw-dropping VFX, the sound and production design are unbelievable. I could feel every punch, kick or scream like I rarely feel with other high-budget films. The amount of work that went in to build this world is worthy of recognition, and I honestly hope that by the end of this year, Alita is receiving a whole bunch of nominations for its aesthetics.

I love how anime-like this feels. I didn’t read the original manga, but you will like this movie more if you’re a fan of anime. Rodriguez does a seamless job bringing Iron City to life, and there are tons of nods to how anime stories flow, which will surely please fans of said genre. Sadly, the screenplay isn’t exactly written as it should be. One of the most emotive moments of the film trusts the audience to buy into the romance displayed on-screen, but since it feels very forced from the get-go, this unnecessary subplot carries too much influence on the end result.

In addition to this, James Cameron and his team took a quite questionable decision concerning the main plot, having in mind the marketing surrounding this blockbuster. It’s still a minor spoiler, so I can’t really delve into details, but I’ll write this: the closest the movie gets to its third act, the more worried I became. From the moment the second acts ends, I start realizing something that not a single person working on this film even hinted at. And that was the worst call they could have ever made. Not only it dragged the first half of the movie, but it deeply damaged its narrative.

Once you see this film, you’ll understand what I’m talking about. You’ll get me when I say that the marketing strategy for Alita: Battle Angel ruined its story and it will definitely make a lot of people leave the theater frustrated, just like I did. Hopefully, this was just a misstep that doesn’t affect its box office because this is a movie worthy of watching at a movie theater and ONLY at such place. Yes, it does have issues with its storytelling. It has a whole world that doesn’t fit in just a 2-hour flick, so the plot becomes convoluted and a bit slow. However, I do think critics are being too harsh …

Alita is one of the most complex, intriguing and well-written characters of the last few years. While the screenplay contains fundamental writing flaws, its main protagonist is flawless. Despite still feeling a bit frustrated, I want to rewatch this movie so bad, just to get another opportunity to follow Alita throughout her journey. I love character-driven narratives, especially when the character in question is such a compelling one. Rosa Salazar delivers an amazing mo-cap performance (The Academy wants a new category? Well, Best Motion-Capture Performance suits your ceremony like a glove). Alita and Salazar share resemblances that can only be achieved with the unique camera-setup and technology that the production team had at their display, which is something pretty outstanding.

Christoph Waltz brilliantly portrays Ido, as expected from such a high-caliber actor. Mahershala Ali (Vector) and Jennifer Connelly (Chiren) are underused, but they make their characters work for the story. Keean Johnson is fine as Hugo, but he’s connected to one of the film’s major issues. Everyone else is pretty great, each performance elevates their respective character, which helps move the plot forward. However, it all goes back to Salazar‘s remarkable performance and the way she and Alita carried the whole thing to safe harbor. Hollywood, put your eyes on this girl!

Finally, the action. Oh my God! The action scenes are some of the most entertaining, riveting and thrilling sequences I’ve seen since Mission: Impossible - Fallout. While the latter based its action on real jaw-dropping stunts, Alita: Battle Angel probably delivers some of the best animated action ever. The motorball sequences are impossible of getting your eyes off-screen, and the fights that Alita goes through are so well-crafted. Honestly, I’m even scared of how these look in regular 2D. I doubt they feel seamless and flow as perfect as they do in IMAX 3D, so be careful with which choice you make. In my opinion …

Alita: Battle Angel is one of those movies that you HAVE TO watch at a movie theater, especially on IMAX 3D. You will not be able to grasp or feel the astonishingly immersive world that James Cameron produced, nor the powerful sound design. Its visuals effects are groundbreaking, and I promise you’ve never seen such a mixture of real and animation like this. Beautiful or gorgeous are not adjectives enough to describe the world where Alita lives. It’s a visual experience, so do waste your time and money in supporting this film.

I can’t deny neither its storytelling problems or the damaging marketing surrounding this blockbuster. However, Rosa Salazar‘s terrific performance and Alita as the protagonist are more than enough reasons to make you feel entertained and captivated until the very end. The action is mind-blowing, and I’m not lying when I state that it contains some of the best animated sequences ever. I left the theater frustrated, but I can’t wait to see it again on the big screen. Alita alone deserves that effort.

|  A+  : 9.3-10 |  A : 8.7-9.2 |  A-  : 8.0-8.6 |  B+  : 7.3-7.9 |  B : 6.7-7.2 |  B-  : 6.0-6.6 ||  C+  : 5.3-5.9 |  C : 4.7-5.2 |  C-  : 4.0-4.6 |  D+  : 3.3-3.9 |  D : 2.7-3.2 |  D-  : 2.0-2.6 |  F : 0-1.9 |

| A+ : 9.3-10 | A: 8.7-9.2 | A- : 8.0-8.6 | B+ : 7.3-7.9 | B: 6.7-7.2 | B- : 6.0-6.6 || C+ : 5.3-5.9 | C: 4.7-5.2 | C- : 4.0-4.6 | D+ : 3.3-3.9 | D: 2.7-3.2 | D- : 2.0-2.6 | F: 0-1.9 |