Robert Rodriguez’s latest visual bonanza, Alita: Battle Angel, is a sci-fi epic that immediately sparks immediate déjà vu to James Cameron’s Avatar. Such allegation isn’t without a root or apparent proof. The striking visuals—especially that attention-demanding anime eyes of the titular character and, later, the detailed mo-cap technology (that Cameron has revolutionized back in 2009 along with the CGI-laden world, the complex mythology in back-stories, the larger-than-life action sequences (including the inventive weapons and the fighting styles), and the nature of the protagonist (living someone else’s body) are in a way or another channeling its inner Avatar.
The key understanding to this phenomenon is only one: the fact that Rodriguez inherited the project from Cameron himself. Drawing further back, the story was even more enticing. Cameron first initiated the project after Guillermo del Toro introduced him to Yukito Kishiro’s cyberpunk manga of the same story. It has been a visual project since the beginning; and, with Cameron inseminated it with his revolutionizing blockbuster paradigm, the future is clear for Alita: Battle Angel. It MUST be a celebratory blockbuster.
From whichever point of views, the whole movie looks like an overly ambitious enterprise that, admittedly, can only happen when Cameron is having full creative independence. Seeing the movie handed over to Rodriguez is an odd but not surprising decision. The director, known for the Mariachi-style filmmaking, is no stranger in handling over-the-top projects with quirky visuals; to name a few—Sin City, From Dusk till Dawn or The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl (please be reminded that this movie exists in Rodriguez’s filmography) to name a few. Yet, given Rodriguez’s portfolio, it is understandable why he’s a choice that makes senses; he has track records of working with movies that struggle cramping up tons of ideas in a limited duration.
Alita’s duration, clocking in at 120 minutes is used mostly to introduce characters and conflicts, while occasionally introduces the underlying mythology that makes the world bigger than what’s shown on the screen. However, it’s almost as baffling when, turns out, the story concerned more about Alita’s interaction with Hugo, her love-interest; meanwhile, there’s a philosophical battle ahead to satirize real-world economical gap and, apparently, capitalism. The movie’s long duration somehow feels too long and yet too incomplex (whilst there’s a real complexity within). Reduce the duration up to around 30 minutes and strip down some world-building, and then Alita will end up being a mediocre sci-fi festival with a more rounded story. What happened here is not a 2-hour material (or, at least, should not be one) that is forced to be an awe-inspiring CGI-laden action fantasy whose full potential is held at the bay.
At least, Alita is having real fun in doing what she’s done best—impressing audiences with the visual details and action-packed thrill for some good portion of it. Rodriguez handles the mayhem quite proficiently, especially when he’s authorized to wreak havoc and show no mercy to his characters. There’s some sparks of hope if Alita’s given a second chance; at least, it doesn’t need to explain everything from scratch anymore.
Alita: Battle Angel
Action, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Adaptation Directed by: Robert Rodriguez Written by: James Cameron, Laeta Kalogridis, Robert Rodriguez based on manga by Yukita Kishiro Starred by: Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Ed Skrein Runtime: 122 mins