08th Feb2019

‘Alita: Battle Angel’ Review – Second Opinion

by Jak-Luke Sharp

Stars: Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Casper Van Dien, Jackie Earle Haley, Michelle Rodriguez, Jeff Fahey, Ed Skrein, Keean Johnson | Written by James Cameron, Laeta Kalogridis, Robert Rodriguez | Directed by Robert Rodriguez

Alita-poster

In 1999, two years after crafting what would be the highest grossing film ever made for over a decade in Titanic, James Cameron was brought to the attention of a Japanese Manga Battle Angel Alita from his young seven-year-old daughter. Engulfed by such a rich and vast property Cameron promised his daughter that one day he would bring the tale of Alita to life on the big screen. Twenty years later Cameron indeed kept his promise. Opting out of the directors’ chair to co-write and co-produce the Robert Rodriquez directed Alita: Battle Angel, but oh boy should it have been left as an empty promise sitting on his desk all these years.

Alita: Battle Angel is comparable to that of George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode One – The Phantom Menace in more ways than one. First off, it’s a passion project, it undoubtedly has love, enthusiasm and energy flowing through its veins. But what comes hand in hand with that is a sense of indulgement and loss of perspective. Rodriquez’s film is engulfed in a flat style with little to no substance, of which best describes his filmography but more on that later. We have showcased a world here that, via evidence in the Manga, is vast in historical ambiguity and visual richness but with the film are left with only snippets of day to day life of fighting to survive the torment of a bleak environment and even to that degree the feeling is poorly conveyed. Theirs no energy or life in the images brought to the screen, just a flat vision stripped of intensity or vivid response needed to root for characters and plot points. Vast undoubtedly in terms of scope but you’ll never feel the heat of the sun, the energy and enthusiasm of possibility, even the weight of a hard life in a derelict society.

It’s all lifeless and empty, many moons away from that of Villeneuve’s Blade Runner: 2049 or even Rupert Sander’s Ghost in the Shell for that matter. Strangely the cinematography that impresses only a handful of times is from the renowned Bill Pope, who has shot multiple works for Edgar Wright and the Wachowski’s Matrix series. Films that convey and evoke feeling and emotion through the lenses. It leads one to suggest that it is perhaps not the eye itself but the orders coming down from the top end of production who are at fault here. The overwhelming usage of CGI is also a key aspect that falls insipid. Close-ups look quite extraordinary with sensational clarity and believability, only in Rosa Salazar’s titual character, however. Once the camera pulls back and in any wide shot that has a view of the city you’re left with a mind-numbing blurry cut scene, reminiscent of an aged video game. Prospeterous when the initial production budget is two hundred million dollars alone, not including marketing costs that have done little to convince audiences of any confidence.

Performances are incredibly poor all round from a cast that has huge potential. Rosa Salazar is undoubtedly the highlight with satisfying enthusiastic energy. From the moment those huge intoxicating eyes open you’re engulfed, yet even Salazar with all that charisma struggles with the script from James Cameron and Laeta Kalogridis that fails to convey sufficient, believable emotion or even convincing energy. It’s all too light and incredibly basic with fleshing out anything, understandably there is a lot to get through but there isn’t even an imbalance of world building and character depth, there isn’t really much of either to be satisfied or informed. Character arcs are an example that contradicts and embellish themselves in a melodramatic over the top nature for no reason except to be boisterous and engulf the image on the screen.

Oscar winner Jennifer Connelly, as enigmatic Chiren, has nothing to do here in such an enormous story. Woven in what should be such a pivotal and key manner the story proceedings she ultimately has to be involved in much of the plot, only to either stand silently or be over-sexualised for no reason at all on screen. An astonishing waste. Oscar Winner Mahershala Ali chews up every single sequence he is in. The screen presence and demeanour such an actor like Ali brings to the table is gargantuan but it’s all misplaced and utterly hollow. A simplistic villain who is engulfed by money and nothing else doesn’t stand well in terms of sufficient compelling narrative. Christoph Waltz as Dr Dyson Ido is by far the weakest performance on display. Zero enthusiasm and zero interest no doubt convey a lifeless tiresome performance that is quite frankly boring to behold. If it was revealed he was unconscious throughout production it wouldn’t surprise any fibre of my being.

Alita: Battle Angel is also a tremendous chance for Robert Rodriquez to showcase his big eye talent, making his name in the home movie market with a budget he hasn’t truly had the chance to broaden his horizons and after this feature, I’m sorry to report to any of his fans that he his unequivocally done in terms of having a platform; and with Cameron also producing this and the lacklustre Terminator Genisys he too isn’t far behind. The sheer lack of spark and creativity, still utilising certain elements of production methods showcased in Spy Kids with shocking uses of a green screen and close-ups only reinforce that he has nothing left to show in evolution or talent. His last three pictures have been hugely costly ventures with massive dints at the box office yet offered more opportunities now more than ever before. If the tables were turned and Rodriquez was a female director you wouldn’t even know his name after the first and what would be their last box office bomb. A shocking and quite frankly distressing notion in the likes of Andrea Arnold, Lynne Ramsey or even Claire Denis struggling with finance in recent years. With what will be such a drastic box office bomb it has to be time to stop enabling huge budgets to directors that are going off reputation after all these years rather than their last feature.

Alita: Battle Angel is in UK cinemas now.

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