Alita: Battle Angel Plot Summary:
Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz) finds a living cyborg thrown away in the junkyard of Iron City and decides to revive her. The girl, Alita (Rosa Salazar), turns out to be far more important than he’d realized.
Alita: Battle Angel is one of those movies it’s impossible not to have an opinion about. Those opinions may diverge wildly, but it demands your attention in a way you can’t ignore. It’s also one of those movies where it’s easy to understand the opposite of whatever opinion you might hold. Its successes are so spectacular, and its flaws so glaring, that it all becomes a matter of whichever stands out to you more. It’s a total mess, pulling you in every direction at once—and sometimes that’s the most fun of all.
First, the undeniable flaws: Alita is often a movie that moves too fast for its own good. There are so many ideas it wants to convey and beats it wants to happen, that few of them get the time they need to develop properly. It’s never so egregious that it becomes difficult to follow, but characters will make decisions or have changes of heart that don’t seem to entirely make sense.This is a problem that only gets worse as the movie goes on, the weight of each abbreviated beat compounding on each other and making every subsequent moment punch a little less.
A major consequence of this is how contradictory the character of Alita herself comes across. The brain of a teenage girl in a killer cyborg, she’s alternately ruthless, savvy, and hopelessly naïve. But she veers wildly between each mode from scene to scene, with little effort to reconcile them into one coherent character. Its most egregious manifestation is in the romance between Alita and Hugo (Keean Johnson), which never quite works well enough to justify the earth-shattering importance both Alita and the movie give it. This could be papered over with enough charisma and chemistry, but alas, neither Salazar nor Johnson are up to the task. All that’s left is a core relationship that never, at any point, elicits much emotion from the viewer.
And yet. And yet. There’s a certain part of some of our brains that lights up when it hears a ridiculous proper noun. If you have it, then you can’t help but smile when someone explains that Alita is “an URM Berseker trained in the art of Panzer-Künst.” There’s a point halfway through the movie where Alita goes to a bar and meets a bunch of cool cyborg bounty hunters and then fights them, all for basically no reason, and it’s amazing. We’re talking about a movie where Christoph Waltz wields a big jet-powered hammer to fight a woman with scythes for hands, and then Alita kicks clean through a man’s arm. It’s an awe-inspiring mishmash of big, stupid, glorious ideas, all rendered in meticulous detail with gorgeous CGI. Nothing was too weird or absurd to include, and the movie is better for it.
Besides, for all its faults, it’s not like none of the emotional core of the movie works. Waltz, bringing to bear considerably more charm than his younger co-stars, is genuinely great as the kindly Dr. Ido. Between him doing more to shore up the writing and the script giving it a little more careful attention, the father-daughter dynamic between Alita and Dr. Ido resonates in all the ways her romance with Hugo doesn’t. And while Alita’s character may be a bit scattershot, they are clearly going for something about personal identity that still works on some fundamental level.
Ultimately, that’s what a lot of this comes down to. This movie istrying. It’s trying to be something new and exciting and original. It misses the mark in so, so many ways, but it swings for the fences and has so much fun doing it. Some people prefer the competent but unremarkable, and that’s totally fine. There’s plenty to recommend about that kind of movie. But if that isn’t you, if you’re someone who likes the ambitious failure, who can see what a movie so desperately wants to be and love it for never quite making it, then Alita: Battle Angel just might be your new favorite example.
Alita: Battle Angel is currently playing in theaters nationwide.