Landon’s Outlook: “Alita Battle Angel” flies too close to the sun

Illustration by Sammy Newman.

Landon Roberts, Contributing Writer

Japanese manga and anime film adaptations are a big trend in Hollywood. But these Americanized adaptations have driven away fans of original manga and anime, while the final product remains too strange for American audiences.  

The happy medium for this conundrum seemed to be “Alita: Battle Angel,” especially with names like James Cameron and Robert Rodriguez behind it. But the final product waters down Alita’s character into a basic run-of-the-mill tween romance film with poorly executed hard science fiction.

Five centuries in the future, Dr. Dyson Ido discovers an ancient piece of cyborg technology that he rebuilds into Alita. Following her reconstruction, Alita must adapt to a technologically advanced post-war society. She fights those who want her destroyed because of her knowledge of the past, the very thing that enables her to topple this new hierarchal society.

This plot may seem interesting enough, but its execution and problems with character development lead to a drab, jumbled mess.

The antagonist Vector, played by Mahershala Ali, never proves menacing and remains a secondary character in favor of a romantic subplot. If the creators dedicated more time to his character, Ali could have turned in a memorable performance that took a stance against fascist rule. But the final product presents a flat one-note puppet, sprinkled throughout the plot for convenience’s sake.

Almost every character exhibits these flat characteristics, masking the original manga’s complexity. Ido and Alita start off with an interesting father-daughter dynamic, but by the second act, it’s abandoned with no explanation. If fleshed out, this dynamic would have been incredibly interesting.

This seems to be the running idea throughout the entire film — there are many interesting ideas, but none are given enough screen time or revisited later. The only thing the creators flesh out is the romance between Alita and Hugo.

This romance is the most uninspired cliche of “Battle Angel.” Intense action is followed by boring melodrama with no real connection to the plot itself. The only time the Alita-Hugo relationship matters is in the film’s forced and rushed final act that attempts — and fails — to pull on the heartstrings of audiences.

If these portions weren’t boring enough, Keean Johnson as Hugo makes scenes unbearable. Every line he delivers is so monotone and emotionless; it makes the more weighty scenes almost laughable.  

The phenomenal computer-generated imagery in “Battle Angel” comes close to redeeming the scenes that fall flat. Bringing the film’s world to life, the visual effects that create Alita are uncanny, but help more than hurt her fish-out-of-water character, though the CGI effects truly shine in the action scenes. While at times it seems like a glorified video game cutscene, the shot composition makes the action incredibly sleek and easy to follow.

The spectacle may be flashy, but the well-executed effects cannot distract from the glaring mess of a plot that never knows what it truly wants to be. “Alita: Battle Angel” intertwines an interesting future world with Japanese manga, but abandons it all for an Americanized love story that only appeals to younger audiences.

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