A while ago, on this very site, I published an opinion piece on James Cameron’s promotion of this film, within that, I was highly critical of the way in which he promoted the film, choosing to promote its visual effects over its story, while that’s a point I stand by, every film should hold up on story first and foremost, I was still determined to go into Alita with an open mind.
It’s taken me a while due to times not lining up with my own schedule, but I finally got a chance to see it on the big screen, I was still unsure of what to expect, I hadn’t exposed myself to any reviews prior to watching, as is my method, so from my perspective, it could have gone either way, with that being said let’s get on with the review.
It’s the 26th century, in the aftermath of a catastrophic war known as ‘The Fall’ only on legendary ‘sky city’ remains, Zalem, with the people living below in a constant battle for life. A cyber-surgeon Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz) discovers the still-living remains of a girl in the scrapyard below Zalem, she soon gains a new life in searching for her old identity.
One thing I’ll say for Alita straight out of the gate, is it builds an impressive, immersive world right from the beginning. In one (admittedly clunky) passage of dialogue, we establish the history of the world. It is the kind of sci-fi world dripping with atmosphere and background detail, the sort where new stories lurk behind every corner.
I might as well establish right now that I liked Alita, quite a lot in fact. More than I could have imagined. It took a while to draw me in, but there was a point around the middle where the intrigue broadens and the lore deepens that sucked me in, it was the point where our heroes were duly established and all of their goals clearly set out.
It’s not terribly original, I must say. Something that should be obvious given the lead characters amnesia, a plot device about as old as time itself, and her somewhat generic goals, but generic goals aren’t always a bad thing, they can be used as building blocks for a deeper story, and Alita’s story has enough satisfying twists and turns to keep its audience invested.
While the visual effects are staggering and do a great job of building the world, there was still an ‘uncanny valley’ effect in certain moments, mostly concerning Alita (Rosa Salazar) herself, I think it’s the CGI work on her face, it looks human, but not human enough, and took a while to get used to, the same can be said of the world and its surroundings, but once you allow yourself to get immersed, you soon get used to it.
By the end of the film, I had grown to like its characters, too, even if Alita herself may look a bit jarring at times, she shows herself as having flaws and imperfections, even when she becomes a ruthless fighting machine, and her relationship with Hugo (Keenan Johnson) is probably my favourite thing about the film, you know it’s coming , from the moment they meet, but it builds organically, to an effective conclusion.
Whereas other such films made in such an environment of prevalent CGI left me feeling cold and disconnected, Alita drew me in with the warmth of its characters, and the depth of its brutal, yet still beautiful world, even the CGI fight scenes delivered spectacularly, which, to be honest, was an aspect I wasn’t much looking forward to. They’re visually busy yes, but not to the extent of say, Transformers, where it becomes difficult to watch and follow, they go at a steady enough pace to follow, and deliver enough visually to be as exciting as possible.
Direction-wise Robert Rodriguez does a great job of portraying this world, calling back to years of cyberpunk films, there were even moments that put me in mind of Blade Runner, a comparison that can only really be viewed positively. the main word that I think describes this world is ‘atmosphere’ it never feels like a bare world, each corner is carefully constructed and full of life.
In conclusion then, I can see myself catching some stick for criticising the film’s marketing only to highly praise it down the line, but I don’t really care, I still stand by that it was poorly marketed, even more so now that I know it has more to offer than visual effects, it just goes to prove my point in a way, Alita had a very effective story, and I enjoyed it immensely, I’ll even welcome a sequel to continue the story, which it left itself wide open for, another thing that would normally annoy me, but this time seems necessary. Alita is a real blast.