‘Alita: Battle Angel’ is a summer blockbuster in the dead of winter

Alita: Battle Angel (2019)

Directed by Robert Rodriguez

It’s been two full years since shooting wrapped on “Alita: Battle Angel,” and 16 years since the project (an adaptation of the manga series “Gunnm”) was originally announced. But like a phoenix rising from the ashes of development hell finally comes the Richard Rodriguez-directed, big-budget blockbuster…but is it worth the wait?

Rosa Salazar and Ed Skrein in Alita: Battle Angel (2019)

“Alita” is set in the 26th century, some two centuries after a war that pitted Earth against Mars, known as “The Fall.” Afterward, Earth was left an apocalyptic wasteland with exactly one livable city (and one lavish city, floating a mile in the sky, occupied by a select few plutocrats). Everyone dreams of getting up there, and they’re willing to do almost anything for the chance. But there are still a few people with good in their hearts, including the all-human Dr. Ido (Christoph Waltz), who fixes up cyborgs for a living…or creates them from scrap metal, as in the case of Alita (Rosa Salazar, a mix of mo-cap realness and CGI). But Alita’s brain is very human, and her past life (which, of course, she can only remember in bits and pieces) brings trouble to the doctor and his associates (including his ex-wife, who is played by Jennifer Connelly, which I only bring up because, like, what, we’re just supposed to believe that Jennifer Connelly, who could surely have had her pick of anyone on the planet, chose Christoph Waltz?).

Like “Valerian” before it, “Alita” is a visually stunning blockbuster with impressive world-building and high hopes of becoming a franchise tentpole…but both, sadly, also felt like they were just a few tweaks away from being a much better movie. I do hope “Alita” makes enough of its bloated budget back that a sequel is possible. I’d watch it. “Alita” may not be good enough to release in the fourth quarter, like was originally planned, but it deserves better than February. Alita” reminds us why we go out to movie theaters instead of just plopping our lazy butts in front of a television anytime we wanted to watch something. “Alita” is entertaining—I just wish it was more. It hints at a class disparity parable that Bernie Sanders would be proud of, but only scratches the surface. It also introduces a fun sport, called MotorBall, (part roller derby, part Mario Kart, part Death Race) that Alita takes part in (but not nearly enough for me to tire of its fun, cutthroat action). Instead of utilizing these elements to their full potential, “Alita” only uses them to advance the plot every once in a while. What I’m saying is that it has some of the pieces it needs to create something more like “Ready Player One” and less like a gender-swapped “Chappie.”

6/10

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