“Alita: Battle Angel” is a film that wants nothing more than to be believed. Believe its richly detailed world, it’s intricate machinery and android-human hierarchies. But most of all, it wants you to believe in the sincerity of its characters. Millions of dollars were spent to make Alita, herself a fully computer-animated creation, an empathetic, seamlessly integrated character. While Alita always looks a bit alien, she is never unbelievable or uncanny.
The film’s CG is astounding. I saw the movie in IMAX 3D and I haven’t been so immersed in a film’s world in a long time. The film is nothing if not spectacular; the steampunk-like slums are vibrant and overflowing with convincing detail.
Overall Alita is a lot more visually believable than I anticipated; after the first five minutes or so I was sold on her performance. Alita’s character is incredibly likable and every second she spends on-screen is a joy. She is the most believable character even when real people are present.
But, my word, the boyfriend character. I found myself cheering when misfortune came his way. Keean Johnson’s acting would feel more appropriate in Sharkboy and Lavagirl, where any scene attempting emotional heft could be better delivered by cardboard cutouts.
The romance scene where Alita tells him that she has ‘upgraded physical feeling’ with her new suit is especially grating. Imagine a newly pubescent boy feeling the body of his android lady-friend as she excitedly tells him how his fingers feel on her robo-skin. And now imagine watching that for five minutes.
The film is full of laugh-out-loud moments, but they’re never intended or self-aware. The movie is rife with horrifically cringy lines. I curled back in my seat when Alita’s nurse says to her doctor/father figure, “Looks like she’s older than you thought” as the breasts on Alita’s new android body come into view.
Much of the film’s emotional impact is stunted by awkward dialogue and eyebrow-raising one-liners. Much of the film’s writing, especially towards the beginning of the film, felt like something from an amateur film class and I was actively shocked that certain conversations made it in.
But Alita: Battle Angel has more to love than cringe at. Christoph Waltz as Dr. Ido, Alita’s guardian, is charming, and his high-powered jet-hammer is a film reel highlight. The whole cast is colorful and their designs a joy to behold. Nothing about the film is ever boring, nor does it feel cynical. Alita Battle Angel radiates sincerity; it’s a true labor of love by fans of the original manga, for fans of the original manga, as well as those who are new to the franchise.
I left the theater with many thoughts about how our society spends millions and millions to keep us entertained with dozens of blockbuster films per year. I waded through existential angst over the fact that we might actually live in a dystopia. But you should still see Alita: Battle Angel in theaters if you can. It’s a crazy, captivating, beautifully animated 150 million dollar thrillride that capitalism seems uniquely capable of providing.