Alita: Battle Angel Review (2019)

A cheerful, rather original and at the same time simple, naive and rather even a childish film about a robot girl with incredibly large and touching eyes, which the mechanical scientist Dr. Ido found in the trash heap, repaired and helped to get back on her feet – and then she discovered, which can easily distribute lula to traveling cyborg drug addicts. Alita meets and falls in love with a completely ordinary guy who has fallen into bad company, and is faced with the fact that everyone in the Iron City, which is run by the mysterious mafioso Vector, wants to get to Zaleb – the only flying city on Earth that survived after a destructive war with Mars for a couple of centuries back. For the sake of a mythical move from poverty to the capital, people and cyborgs are ready for the lowest deeds, and innocent, but able to stand up for herself, Alita will have to face injustice and betrayal, as well as – remember who she really is, find her own voice and a force that is not imprisoned in her refined mechanical body, but in her mind and heart.

Listen, this is some kind of unexpected delight. I’m serious.

After the film, there is a pleasant aftertaste, despite the open ending and many unanswered questions.

Alita during the deadly race (still from the movie “Alita: Battle Angel”, XX Century Fox film company)

“Battle Angel” is not at all ideal, of course – the dialogues are schematic, some moments are predictable and not all characters (like Hugo, about whom everything is clear at once) are well written, but otherwise it is something very pleasant and exciting.

A kind of cyberpunk tale about a mechanical girl and her clumsy adoptive father who become attached to each other, despite all the difficulties and reservations, in order to survive in a world where everything is ruled by violence and power, based on the promise of future freedom. This is a teenage fantasy, but filmed like very expensive, great movie – and quite violent. Cyborgs, who have replaced themselves from one or several limbs to a whole body, are not ashamed of self-harm, and blue blood should not be misleading: the local frostbitten brutes-mechanoids will not stand on ceremony when they want to chop you into pieces, and even reflexes honed by the forgotten past of a mechanical beauty may be useless. Therefore, you worry about her during every fight, furnished as a dance, where every movement and every pirouette of Alita is felt.

Not all characters look realistic, for example, the creepy face of a thug who went through with body modifications or a polished handsome killer, who has only his face left of his, but this is not very striking when all attention is riveted on Alita. She is the most important visual achievement of the film by Robert Rodriguez. She was played by actress Rosa Salazar in a motion-capture costume, and the CGI team carefully transferred her facial expressions to a digital character similar to herself. And this is amazing, if you think about it, we have come to the peak of technology development, which has been talked about since the beginning of the two thousandth. The special effects have reached such a level that any actor can play anyone, and thanks to talented artists and animators, this will be adequately transferred to the screen. Shrek could have been played by anyone, not Mike Myers, the cowboy Woody from Toy Story doesn’t have to be Tom Hanks – but Gollum from The Lord of the Rings is Andy Serkis, we see his crazy acting in the movies (even if technically and recreated from scratch), as well as the most powerful villain-philosopher Thanos from “The Avengers” is Josh Brolin with his trademark squint, or Scrooge from “A Christmas Carol” by Zemeckis is playing old man Jim Carrey. In Alita, the dream project of James Cameron, who was forced to hand the project over to Rodriguez in order to finish his epic Avatar, in Alita this is most pronounced, here a deliberately unrealistic digital character equals himself and the actor. In silent scenes, Salazar plays with his eyes, the corners of his mouth, a quick grin, a movement of his eyebrows – and moves like a dancer. Looking at her, you believe that she is able to give her heart if it helps the one she loves (no matter how ridiculous it may look in the context of the scene), these bottomless big eyes cannot be insincere.

Experienced actress Rosa Salazar acted out the role to the smallest detail, and CG artists and animators ensured an accurate transfer of her acting.

In addition to Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz (an ironic Nazi from Inglourious Basterds, Cardinal Richelieu from The Three Musketeers with Mila Jovovich) and Mahershalal Ali (Academy Award for Moonlight, future Blade in the Marvel films) ). The first turned out to have an endearing hero, a kind of Pope Carlo with giant hammers – not like either an ironic Nazi or Cardinal Richelieu, which in the case of Christoph Waltz is already pleasing. And Mahershalala Ali is just a cool actor, he is good everywhere, even in the role of a murky gangster who has taken over the whole city. The rest of the cast … happy that Jennifer Connelly (the poor girl from Requiem for a Dream is a monstrously good film that no one ever watches unless they enjoy masochism) is still filming as Winona Ryder from Stranger Things – the stars of films of the nineties are not always going smoothly now. Keane Johnson as Hugo … rather pissed off, like a mixture of Edward Cullen and Justin Bieber, the character and his fate are more amusing than empathizing with the drama. And this is a serious disadvantage in the context of history.

Alita and her adoptive father, Dr. Ido (still from the movie “Alita: Battle Angel”, XX Century Fox film company)
Scarlett Johansson as Motoko Kusanagi in Ghost in the Shell (2017, Paramount Pictures)

It is strange that “Alita” has a sister film, released not so long ago and on a similar theme. This is “Ghost in the Shell” based on the comics of Masamune Shiro and full-length animated films by Mamoru Oshii, where the main role was played by Scarlett Johansson (the disembodied voice of the program in the film “She”, Natasha Romanova from “The Avengers”, that beauty from “Match Point” Woody Allen ). “Alita” is also based on a manga from which an anime was filmed (however, not very successful, as they say), and the American film “Ghost in the Shell” paints a similar, albeit less fabulous, world of high technology and aggravating poverty, where people prefer virtual reality by wire directly to the brain of the squalid life around, and a person’s personality and memories can be hacked and erased by a sufficiently qualified hacker or even an intelligent program. Scarlett Johansson also played a girl in the body of a robot (and cool, in fact, she played, wooden and almost without emotion – this is an acceptable reading of the character of the detective of the ninth department Motoko Kusanagi), but the film itself hardly stood out, except perhaps for special effects, a picture of the world, filled with advertising holograms and people with implants, and some of the atmosphere that was in the legendary 1997 cartoon and its somewhat schizophrenic sequel (cool, actually, but insane). But as a film, it did not work out very well – and the thematically similar “Alita” in comparison with “Ghost in the Shell” looks very profitable. Yes, this is not as hardcore cyberpunk as, for example, the old “Johnny Mnemonic” with the favorite of the Internet-2019, the living incarnation of Jesus Christ, Keanu Reeves, and not at all as stylish and elaborate as “Altered Carbon”, and in general it is rather good, a family movie about a strong girl, evil robots, blue blood and severed iron arms and legs, but in comparison with “Ghost in the Shell” “Alita” is well, very good.

Alita replaces Zapan, a cyborg bounty hunter (still from the movie “Alita: Battle Angel”, XX Century Fox)

Even in spite of the open final and not all the given answers. Perhaps this is the influence of Cameron and his current approach to stories: to think over everything inside and out, but to present the story in a dosed manner, with the expectation of fully revealing the world and its characters in several films (as in the same “Avatar” – almost no one except the crew members knows what it is about, but Cameron came up with stories for four new films at once, which he is now shooting at the same time; the first film-continuation of adventure fiction a decade ago will be released in 2021). But films, especially expensive and large-scale ones, are always a risk, because investors must at least earn something in order to recoup the budget and advertising costs; that is why, for example, cheap and similar horror films are so popular – primitive emotions, simple techniques, penny costs and, in case of predictable success, big profits (the classic “Blair Witch”, for example, was removed for 60 thousand dollars almost on the knee, but collected it is 250 million dollars worldwide, although this film, to put it mildly, is not the most ingenious and iconic, probably more for the genre than for the cinema in general, as one of the first works of the kind of “found real films”). Therefore, hiring the best visual specialists and filling every frame with graphics is far from a recipe for success, just look at the latest “Transformers” under Michael Bay – well, it’s impossible to watch, although everything seems to be there, and locations, and dynamics, and what- then the characters seem to be cool, and the scale … but not a grasping story and not at least a little deep characters. In the films “Marvel”, which highbrow aesthetes, wiping their pince-nez and twirling their antennae, indulgently scaly, this is at least there. They are about people in unusual circumstances, and they are human. Let it not always work out, but they try to evoke sincere emotions, building an attraction on the development of characters from film to film, on the evolution of their values. The best example is Tony Stark, “Iron Man”.

There is such development in “Alita”. The heroine grows up in the course of the film, searches for her identity, gets used to a new body, falls in love, sacrifices herself, loses loved ones, takes revenge, becomes stronger and more collected, she finds herself in the battle she is waging with the world. She was created for something that she does not yet understand, but she is able to feel and love, she has a huge heart and this makes her truly special, unique.

It will be a shame if the international box office does not convince the producers to film the sequel already invented by Cameron and Rodriguez. The story ends at the most interesting place, and although you can imagine what path awaits Alita on her way to the cloudy city, where the mysterious Nova rules the world, able to see with the eyes of any person and feeling the danger coming from Alita, it would be very cool to see the second part this movie in the cinema. Moreover, we know that Cameron’s second parts are much better (“Aliens”, “Terminator 2”, “Titanic 2” … wait a second), and Rodriguez is just cool when he does not play spy children (he shot a brilliant “Sin City”, excellent in its brutality, severity, correct pretentiousness and stupidity “Machete” and “Faculty” with a stoned Frodo Baggins). Let’s hope that some Hollywood Reporter or Empire will soon report on the fate of the sequel.

Because Alita is so cute, we need more heroine films like her.

Alita enters the warpath (still from the movie “Alita: Battle Angel”, XX Century Fox)

Well, cyberpunk as a genre, which was in decline some time ago, should flourish: it seems to me that this is predetermined historically. We all have yet to comprehend what our society will or may look like when medical and digital technologies develop so much that the replacement of limbs with a high-tech prosthesis will become the lot of not only people with disabilities, but in general anyone who wants to. Sewing a real or cyborg arm back will be as easy as amputating, when organ transplants and life extension will be a daily routine, and diseases like AIDS or Ebola will disappear. It’s all about this, in medicine and high technologies … it is clear that for some time they will be available to the elite. So what? Penicillin and polio vaccinations were also once a luxury (and now anti-vaccines are successfully helping diseases of the past return, but people like the Luddites have always been). Technologies are getting cheaper and more accessible. And the rich will always be one step ahead with their toys – at first outlandish for everyone else, and then familiar and generally accepted. Alternating current Tesla, Bell’s telephone, Ford’s automatic carriage, Turing’s cipher machine and ENIAC with a few bytes of memory that occupied an entire room … unsafe toys that evolved into something more. Perhaps someday, with the practice of modifying the human body, something similar to films like “Johnny Mnemonic” or “Alita” will happen. The new technology of the next company Elon Musk, “Neurolink”, which is soon going to be tested on humans, can help this. Mice with USB connectors in their heads already exist and feel great. It’s a little creepy, of course, but the technology of this chip (its task is to connect the brain and a mobile phone directly with a small chip and a device worn on the ear as safely and simply as possible) can make the life of many people, paralyzed or dumb, easier. If Stephen Hawking had lived to see this announcement, he would have loved it. Such technologies are changing the world, making it even richer and more accessible for everyone, regardless of their natural capabilities or limitations, and we have yet to comprehend what the world will be like, where the events of the cool, evil and smart film “Upgrade” about paralytics, who have become super- human with the help of an implanted chip (an excellent film, I recommend it – like “Venom”, only a good one), will seem like an ordinary part of a criminal chronicle, and Alita’s adventures in Wonderland – a standard novel of a provincial girl growing up three hundred years after the war between Mars’ Olympus and Earth’s Washington …

Good, in general, cinema: a good fairy tale and a successful film adaptation of a part of Japanese culture. It probably couldn’t have been better – this is a great production movie, you need to make money. So we squeeze the porcelain cams and wait for the second part.


For Beautiful Eyes And A Big Heart

If there’s something we do really need, it’s Alita’s sequel.

P.S. Finally, listen to Dua Lipa’s excellent credits composition, the rhythmic and motivating Swan Song.

Dua Lipa – “Swan Song” (video clip for a song from the film)