A tale that the man who birthed history’s deadliest appliance in The Terminator, pluralized HR Giger’s penis demons in Aliens, turned the kid from Critters III into a human popsicle in Titanic and just gave up trying to be original when he forced The Smurfs and Dances With Wolves to breed and make Avatar (which also contaminated the global water shelf of creativity with the fucking parasite named “Unobtainium”), Alita‘s long hard road out of Development Hel is an epic story all its own. I don’t have the space to dedicate to such a story here, but I’ll say this much; it’s been on James Cameron’s (possibly erotic) otaku to-do-list since the mid-90s, but it was pushed to the back burner in favor of his other projects before he finally handed the directorial reins to Robert Rodriguez in 2016, then wasn’t released to theaters until 2019 thanks to two more years of graphical tinkering after filming had finished. Is all of that info true? Trust it as far as you can throw IMDB’s server banks.
Was it worth the 24 year wait for a big screen adaptation of a Japanese comic book that probably less than 1% of the global audience has ever heard of? Read on, my super freaks.
The time? 500 years in the future. The place? Iron City. What’s Iron City? A dystopic metropolis that exists in the literal shadow of the “floating” city of Zalem, where the wealthy and well-to-do live lives of luxury as the plebians below struggle to survive on the scraps that their social overlords throw down to them. Amid the cyberpunk squalor of IC, things basically run Wild West style, sadly minus mecha-spider Kenneth Branaugh. Though there is a constabulary, they’re little more than walking tanks that intimidate people rather than upholding any actual law. The real justice in Iron City is vigilante justice, as registered bounty hunters are responsible for keeping the peace, so long as their pockets need filling.
One of the aforementioned “scraps” tossed down from Zalem are the actual remains of a female android, discovered by mechanic-doctor Dyson Ido during a salvage run in the massive scrapyard at Iron City’s center. He takes the leftovers home, where he gives the head and torso a new body and names her “Alita” after his deceased daughter. Al awakens to almost total amnesia as to her previous life, so she doubles as our protagonista AND our avatar on this tour of a whole new world…. sans the magic carpet ride.
Alongside Alita we meet scrap dealer and inevitable love interest Hugo, whose dream is to buy his way into the good life up in Zelam. Through Hugo, we’re also introduced to Rollerball, errr, I mean “Motorball” – a hybrid sport that combines roller derby with… extremely violent cyborg mutilation… so I guess it’s not so much a hybrid sport as it is, well, just roller derby with extremely violent cyborg mutilations… Turns out that anyone who becomes the Motorball MVP for several years time earns citizenry in, you guessed it, Zelam. Given that ‘Lita’s ultimate motivation will now be joining Hugo in the journey to the city in the sky, will she become a professional ‘Baller or take the down and dirtier route and earn her way with a shiny new bounty hunting license? What’s a giant-eyed androidess modeled after a teen girl (seriously, that part never stops being creepy) to do?!
Oddly enough, Krix and I both had fun watching Alita. Though its boiled-down-to-basics “coming of age” theme is overdone and skews for a YA audience, we geezers found Rosa Salazar and her big ol’ weird-ass oculars charming as all get out. Her delivery is just the right amount of naivety for a cyber-person in her position. Waltz plays Ivo with the penchant of a pensive parent and treats the titular tin can with the love of someone who knows what it’s like to suffer serious loss. As with any Rodriguez film, part of the fun is spotting the friends he worked in cameos for, like Jeff “Planet Terror” Fahey, who plays a bounty hunter whose dogs’ iron jaw bites are worse than their barks. Odd that Danny Trejo didn’t make an appearance though. Hmmmm.
RR’s direction has spots of epic scale that work great for the subject material, but I can’t say the same for the CG work, which sure as shit would’ve benefited from some of Cameron’s Avatar buddies. If I’m being honest, the infamous uncanny valley distractions I had throughout my viewing relocated immediately from Al’s saucer eyes as soon as any instance of bots battling started up or any scene with android juggernaut Grewishka, whose weird face and entirely CG body looked like their effects could’ve used a bit more time in the figurative oven. Speaking of time, that makes for a fair segue into my dislike for the movie’s final act. Despite being unfamiliar with the illustrated adventures of Alita, I have a sneaking suspicion that the last 20 minutes or so of the movie tried to squeeze a WHOLE LOTTA adaptation into a very limited amount of time. The fluidity afforded the rest of the movie to move comfortably from scene to scene suddenly became overly lubricated as everything seemed to run in Fast Forward. I almost thought I’d sat on my BluRay controller by the time the flick had been wrapped up in its hastily thrown together package. Feels as if half a sequel was lubed up and squeezed in before the credits just so there would be a better tease to end on for a possible future installment. As Krix will tell you, rushing to the finish line just leaves your partner (or in this case, the audience) disappointed.
Before I take my flight on the razor steel wings of my own Battle Angel, I’ve got one more little gripe to ripen: changing the title from “Battle Angel Alita” to Alita: Battle Angel makes my brain itch. Supposedly it’s something to do with Cameron’s greatest successes coming from movies titled with ‘T’ or ‘A’ (make your own “tits and ass” jokes among yourselves) so the name swap may be contributed to some personal superstition. If anything, the “Battle Angel” moniker should’ve been cropped and saved for a sequel since its basis in the movie proper comes off as sloppily inserted (giggity) just so the audience can have their “They said the name of the movie!” spot. It’s all starting to feel like a conspiracy to annoy me personally. Or maybe that’s just the schizophrenia whispering in my ear again. No, damn it! I told you, I’m not going to burn down any (more) Hardeeseseses!
Four Brains in Jars out-of-Five
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