Okay. SO .
The new Alita movie came out like a million weeks ago (in Internet and ADHD time). I saw it opening wee…k (?) and — as a casual Alita fan — I meant to have a review out pretty much right away. But, haha, it’s like six months later, and it’s taken me four months on-again-off-again to write this op-ed, so here we are.
In a momentary attempt to rectify my prefrontal cortex’s lack of executive function, consider this the first in a potential series called “Deja View” — blog posts where I look back on movies I either meant to write about upon initial release, or in general. Films I deem cinematic perfection (Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2), and films I love to analyze and pick apart (Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World).
This isn’t a review with an aim to influence what you think, whether or not you should go out and see Alita in theatres. Jeremey Jahns and Chris Stuckmann (As awful and obnoxious they both are) have already gone out of their way to make mad Youtube bucks in doing so.
Alita: Battle Angel has been well out of theatres for months now with an ever-growing cult following and an estimated total revenue of $404.9 mil. If you’re gonna see the movie, you’ve probably already nipped that in the bud by now. I’m just here to get my thoughts out and maybe insite a conversation. That’s what Deja View is, to me.
Needless to say, spoilers ahead.
Deja ReVeiw – Alita: Battle Angel
I am still baffled as to why the distributer thought Valentine’s Day (A Thursday) was the most advantageous date to drop a high-budget niche sci-fi action flick about a cyborg girl who literally tears people apart whilst on a quest to figure out just who the hell she is.
I mean, I get couples going out to dinner and a movie to celebrate what societal expectation means for cis-hetero normative love connections — but … was Alita supposed to be that movie?
There’s probably a good explaination and solid market research and math and smart-people stuff that I’m too lazy to actually look into, but Alita was made on a whopping $170 mil budget; I was worried that dropping the movie on a Thursday, instead of a Friday, would somehow harm the opening day box office numbers (which are pretty important, last I checked?)
As of today (*scrambles to find a calander*) uhhhh — July … 4th? 2019?? At, 11:11 (whoa) in the morning, Alita: Battle Angel has grossed $86 million in the United States and Canada (which, I don’t know, feels a little scary?), but has totally cleared the bank statements internationally, making $317 million.
Needless to say, a movie that totally sequel-baits itself after the first twenty-minutes onward, is probably going to be getting a sequel. Even if that means Mister Producer James Cameron shells the money out of his own pockets. Given that Alita has been his passion project for the last hundred years, that’s probably what’s going to happen.
A lot of negative reviews came out upon the film’s initial release, toting that while the film has tons and tons of visual flair (no surprise, considering Alita is by-and-large a James Cameron film, no matter who directed it — see: Stephen Spielberg’s Poltergiest), there wasn’t a lot of substance, story-wise. I felt like the film’s flow was disjointed, and tried to cram too much (exactly two-and-a-half arcs from the source material) into a teeny, tiny, two-hour blockbuster.
I can see why the casual, “no fun allowed”, pleb of a Rotten Tomatoes aggregate film critic would poo-poo yet another Americanized Hollywood remake of a foreign property. But what’s interesting to me about this is the dichotomy beween these critics, and actual film-goers.
People freaking LOVE Alita: Battle Angel. It’s being praised as the first Hollywood anime adaption to actually adapt anime correctly. Alita has apparently set the bar for how to properly adapt these kinds of IPs — very much like how Watchmen (not Ironman, like everyone thinks) set the course of how comicbook films should be adapted. I was genuinely surprised by this, having felt similarly to much of the negative press.
I have complicated feelings about Alita: Battle Angel. The source material really inspired me as a kid to get into comics-making. The art is so gorgeous and hyperdetailed. The characterizations are so fully realized, and Alita was one of the first stories I read where the GIRL was the hero, and kicked ass because she WANTED TO.
I was so amped for this movie upon its reveal. While everyone was whining about the size of Rosa Salazar’s eyes, I was all aboard the hype train, re-reading the comic in Kodansha’s glorious deluxe hard-back editions, prepping myself for what genius James Cameron had in store for us viewers.
But, it’s not perfect. And it’s not exactly genius. In fact, this movie goes against the exact mantra I described for Deja View in this article’s initial paragraphs. Alita: Battle Angel is clunky and hamfisted, but … it IS a lot of fun to watch. And the amount of heart and desire poured into this film gives the film’s imperfections a pass in my book. I am a content creator. A film is not a failure if the filmaker did his very best. I feel this way about The Room. I feel this way about Manos: The Hand of Fate.
Alita: Battle Angel — though leagues above the production quality and talent of those two films, is really no different in my eyes.
The fight scenes are perfectly choreographed and executed, Rosa Salazar brings a lot of childlike humanity to Alita’s character, and the film is a visual metaphor for a succulant Thanksgiving feast (it’s fucking delicious, and stuffed to the brim with appetizers, if that wasn’t a clear enough).
But as a writer, I can’t help but be in constant editior mode when it comes to consuming media, which can be a problem. Bad dialogue, gaping plotholes, and lazy writing stand out to me like a five-mile sink hole. It’s difficult for me to shut my brain off and simply enjoy something for the sake of enjoying it, no matter how big, dumb, and safe it is — which is why Marvel Studios rarely sees an inch inside my wallet.
As for Alita, I want to like this movie, and it took a couple viewings to fully appreciate this movie, but it does have a lot of problems.
The biggest issue people seem to have with this film is the romantic arc between Alita and Yugo. True, the pair do come across a little forced, and I’m unsure just how much chemistry sparks between Rosa Salazar and Keenan Johnson — but ultimately this works for the movie, considering the source material’s context, where Alita’s affections for Yugo are unreciprocated for his greater passionate goal for reaching Zalem. For what the movie is, I’m okay with the portrayl of their relationship.
The issue I have with the film is its pacing and writing. Specifically, everything that involves Desty Nova’s (IIRC, none of which is source canon, by the way. Please correct me if I’m wrong, as I am going off my own experience reading the original BA comics, and nothing outside of the original run) James Cameron wrote such an elaborate screenplay (600 pages!!!!!) that needed to be whittled down, but in doing so, the film crams so much unneccesary information and plot into a two-and-a-half hour film that the complex world of Scrap Iron City, Zalemites, Hunter-Killers, and Alita’s personal journey for identity have difficulty breathing.
Also, there’s the BIGGEST plothole in cinematic history, when we see a shot during the bar fight scene where Yugo clearly recognizes the razor claw he stole, with Vector’s help, attached to a new dude who’s bent on trying to kill his cyborg girlfriend — there’s clear confusion mixed with realized horror on Yugo’s face — AND YET HE DOESN’T BRING THIS UP TO VECTOR IN THE FOLLOWING SCENE WHERE THEY GET DRUNK TOGETHER?? HE DOESN’T FEEL BETRAYED THAT HIS BOSS IS OUTWARDLY TRYING TO *KILL* HIS *CYBORG GIRLFRIEND*?
UMMMM, MOVIE????? HELLO??????????????
Bad writing aside, my most contentious gripe is with the editing and pacing. Alita: Battle Angel knows there’s more story to tell, but it is far too focused on preparing the audience for the bigger picture (aka, producing an unguaranteed franchise through Desty Nova’s looming puppetry over the city, rushing to uncover Alita’s past, and ushering Alita into the world of Motorball as an active participant), that it completely forgets to tell the singular story that will act as a natural gateway to those further stories — if such stories are greenlit. The flowchart of this movie should have been focused around only three main factors: Alita becoming a Hunter-Killer, her one-sided infatuation with Hugo which eventually leads to tragedy and leads her to exact revenge on Vector, both before the backdrop of Ido’s desperation to maintain Alita’s purity as a living porclean doll.
Sure, the aforementioned plot beats are obviously in the film, but, again, they should have been the central focus of the film — and Vector should have been the central antagonist, not Nova. He sure as hell is the big bad in the manga’s first arc, anyway. Desty Nova doesn’t even appear until two thirds of Battle Angel Alita’s original run — and has less of an overarching impact than the film seemingly wants him to have. In the manga, he’s literally introduced through a mere throwaway line. Desty Nova was just another bounty to collect. He eventually becomes to Alita what the Joker is to Batman. He is a mad scientist in exile who desires to fuck around with Zalem’s political climate — nothing more, nothing less.
Granted, I haven’t read BAA’s sequel series, Last Order — so perhaps the devil is in the details there, and I’m making a complete fool of myself here. But regardless, I stand firm in these observations of Nova’s character and motivation in the manga, compared to his goofy Saturday Morning Villain(tm) theatrical portrayal. Nova nowhere to be found in the 1993 “Battle Angel” OVA which James Cameron used as his main inspiration and launching point for his Hollywood adaption.
Know who is, though? Vector.
Interesting that while the movie explores Alita’s expression of humanity, this final scene shows how wooden, robotic, trauma can make us feel — seen in Alita’s posture and movement, here.
I feel like I’m complaining far too much about a movie I ultimately feel pretty positive about. Yes, obviously, this movie has its problems, and it produced a lot of cringing from me.
So, what did I like about Alita: Battle Angel?
It was pretty to look at, for one. The fight coreography was spot-fuckin’-on. Rosa Salazar owned the role of Alita, and I am so, so, so, SO, pleased she is getting her due recognition for the role.
Most importantly, what I love about Alita: Battle Angel is that it is a new bar for Hollywood adaptations of foriegn properties, and launched a long-forgotten manga back into North American circulation for old fans and new fans, like — much like Netflix did for Evangelion (More on that at a later date).
For everything “Alita” did wrong in its editing and writing department, it got so much right — because James Cameron and Robert Rodrieguez know film, and they know how to make a good film — and most importantly: James and Robert make films they would love to watch as filmgoers and voracious consumers of alternative/underground pop culture. Heart and desire were poured into the production of Alita: Battle Angel, and it shows — despite the amount of flaws flare out at the edges.
Also — for the record, Alita’s eyes are fucking fine. She’s a robot with big eyes.
Get over it.