In 2009 20th Century Fox released Dragonball: Evolution. It was based on the adored manga Dragon Ball and fans, general audience, and critics hated it. It was put down as the worst adaptation of a manga at the time. Fast forward a decade later and 20th Century Fox, director Robert Rodriguez, and producer James Cameron have brought Alita: Battle Angel to the big screen and all I can say is Dragonball: Evolution may have a challenger for the title.
Alita: Battle Angel opens with Dr. Ido (Christoph Walz) sifting through a massive scrapheap. Clearly scavenging for parts he comes across the torso of a young female cyborg. He is surprised to learn that she is still alive and so brings her back to his clinic to rebuild her.
When the young cyborg awakens Dr. Ido realises that she has no memory of her past and so when she asks for a name he dubs her Alita. Alita is an interesting character, Rosa Salazar who plays Alita brings a naivety to the role. She has many questions so that she can better understand the world she has been (re)born to.
She is also a terrifying force of nature. Within her miniature frame is a destructive force that eradicates everyone and everything that gets in her way when she wants answers and doesn’t get them.
It is these two dual themes that are at the core of Alita: Battle Angel. The innocence of Alita that is slowly eroded throughout the course of the film as she learns the rules of Iron town and Zalem. She meets the Hunter Warriors an oddly titled group of bounty hunters. She then goes on to try out for the local sport Motorball which may hold the answers she seeks. All the while being watched and pursued by a litany of villainous forces. Why? It’s simple really she’s shaking the status quo with her very presence.
This all sounds great, doesn’t it? Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news but Alita: Battle Angel is an early contender for the worst film I’ve seen this year.
I’ll start with the cast. You’ve never seen something so silly in your life until you see Christoph Waltz cosplaying as Vampir Hunter D with a hammer twice the size of himself. Waltz is decent in the role of Dr. Ido the father that Alita never knew she needed. He spouts exposition for the most part and has a convincing rapport with Salazar and her giant eyes.
The antagonists of the film are both human and cyborg but none of them are a threat to Alita. This means there is little to no stakes in the film even when characters are being killed left right and centre. For example, the great Mahershala Ali is given barely anything to do in the role of the villainous Vector except look menacing in some nifty cyberpunk shades. Every now and then his talent bursts through with a particular moment of scheming but that’s it. He’s utterly wasted here.
The cyborg antagonists don’t fare much better. Director Robert Rodriguez makes a poor decision in his choice of cyborgs that are considered Alita’s rivals. She has two main antagonists that are made out to be her rivals. There is the monstrous Grewishka played by Jack Earle Haley. He’s a massive cyborg that is her main physical opponent throughout the film. He is a big bad brawler and is tasked with taking her down. He’s boring and feels more like a bouncer than a villain.
The film tries so hard to make him threatening even going as far as trying to give Alita a John Wick motivation to defeat him.
The other cyborg antagonist is Zapan played by Ed Skrein. He’s this legendary Hunter Warrior that Alita gets on the wrong side of. In my opinion Robert Rodriguez should have swapped out these two characters roles. This boils down to acting, motivations and the designs of the cyborgs. Zapan design wise is fascinating and easily could have been a far more threatening force especially if he was in the position Grewishka is in the film. To me, Grewishka is a poorly designed, cliché ridden character that looks like a metal cockroach.
The film is filled with characters but it has no character. It feels like a stripped down Bladerunner: 2049 with none of the depth. Half the cast give exposition but instead of fleshing out this massive world it just feels like you’re reading from a poorly written text.
If there is anything positive to take away from Alita: Battle Angel it is the cinematography. When Alita battles her various foes you are engaged with the impressive fight choreography. Sadly even this starts to become a ramshackle mess in the end when Alita takes on several cyborgs in a Motorball match and the CGI quality dramatically drops for several of the cyborgs.
In the end, I leave you with this. Wait until you can watch Alita: Battle Angel on DVD unless you are a major fan of Alita because maybe then you’ll see something in it I didn’t.