Alita: Battle Angel is the best movie about a robot girl trying to figure out what she wants from life that has come out in 2019 and chances are that it will remain that way. Based on a manga series from the ’90s, the film is about a cybrog with a human brain who is awoken by a good doctor but without memories—only to eventually get wrapped up in a plot much bigger than herself. There’s robot fighting, sportsball, and a boy, and that might sound like a slightly mocking description but the film plays it all seriously and it kind of works because of that.
You’ve probably already figured out that the girl is named Alita. She’s played by Rosa Salazar with some combination of live-action acting and motion-capture. If you’ve seen the trailer or any still images you probably noticed she doesn’t look quite human. Her eyes, especially, look strange—they’re large and glossy. This isn’t an issue. It works in the film, its effect is intentional, and Salazar’s performance is great. The eyes might even help. Seriously.
That doctor is Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz), who has secrets of his own and ulterior motives for awakening Alita in the first place. The boy is Hugo (Keean Johnson), the sportsball is called “Motorball,” and now I think I’ve covered all the bases I referenced earlier. What else is there to the movie? Lots. Director Robert Rodriguez, working with producer and co-writer James Cameron, has created an engaging world to learn about and explore, and you’ll likely want to do that for the entirety of its running time.
Alita: Battle Angel quite quickly morphs into one of those movies whose world is so neat and interesting that you don’t want to leave it. Cameron did this before with Avatar—to the point where people were depressed they couldn’t visit it in real life—and while the effect isn’t as strong here, it’s still present. It’s held back by being semi-generic post-apocalyptia. It’s fully realized, the effects used to create it are fantastic, and it does a great job of immersing us in its developments; it just doesn’t have enough to make it stand out among the sea of similar films and locales.
This is also a movie with solid action. Robert Rodriguez knows how to shoot action, which is great because all of the robots fights are fantastic. If all you’re looking for is an action movie, then this will satisfy. It’s not the deepest of entertainments out there—trying to promote it in the Matrix/Blade Runner realm was a mistake; it’s not trying to be those—but it succeeds with its visuals, world-building, characters, and action.
While Alita: Battle Angel isn’t a home run, in large part because its narrative is looking forward to future films a bit more than it should and it definitely could have used some more thematic depth, it’s a strong action movie with a great world to explore for a couple of hours that is populated with engaging characters. I want to see more of these and I hope it makes enough money that we will be able to get to see what the filmmakers have planned.
Conclusion: Alita: Battle Angel is an entertaining movie and I want 12 more of them.
Recommendation: If you like action sci-fi movies, Alita: Battle Angel is worth checking out.