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Alita: Battle Angel review

Robert Rodriguez & James Cameron unite to produce a ground-breaking cinematic experience.

Alita: Battle Angel
Credit: 20th Century Fox

The first must-see IMAX movie of the year has arrived! Alita: Battle Angel is a stunning visual feast for the senses, with sparkling spectacle and a deeply absorbing story full of emotion. The dream team of producer James Cameron and director Robert Rodriguez have crafted a impressive film that takes the popular Manga ‘Gunnm’ and brings it vividly to life through some of the best (and most seamless) CGI ever put to film, and a story that makes sure it always engages the soul.

After ‘The Fall’, a world altering war that has divided humankind, Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz) now spends his days helping his local community by fixing mechanical things and scavenging for spare parts. On one of his routine hunts, he comes across a ‘core’ of a Cyborg that is still alive. He takes it back to his workshop and gives it a new body. Naming her Alita (Rosa Salazar), Ido learns that she has no recollection of where she’s from or what her past entailed. As Alita starts to learn about the world around her, she pieces together the fragments of her broken past whilst starting a friendship with a young man named Hugo (Keean Johnson). One thing is for sure, Alita is a truly unique being – something that hasn’t gone unnoticed by local crime lord Vector (Mahershala Ali).

A project that has been in development for many years now, Alita: Battle Angel is a true labour of love for James Cameron. Surprisingly, after so much of the pre-production work was done, Cameron had to step back from directing this himself because he’s still putting together his numerous Avatar sequels. But having Robert Rodriguez onboard as director is a masterstroke and gives Alita: Battle Angel a really fresh energy that is evident in practically every frame of the film. Together, they have made something that will stand the test of time – a live action and CGI medley of sight and sound that always keeps the core values of its narrative at the forefront. It’s also one of the most beautiful looking films I’ve ever seen.

It surprised me just how emotionally charged Alita is. The story has lots of moving parts and each one has enough emotional weight to carry a film in itself. The story of Christoph Waltz’s Dr. Ido and Rosa Salazar’s Alita forms the central theme of the film and it also keeps you invested throughout. It manages to steer clear of clichés and frequently impresses with heartfelt exchanges that breathe believable life into the characters. The love angle between Alita and Hugo is expertly handled and delivers some really memorable moments too, making both the human interest story and the action elements each succeed exceptionally well. By doing this, every scene has a real attachment to it and you feel the consequences because the time has been taken to flesh these characters out properly.

Alita: Battle Angel

Credit: 20th Century Fox

The motion capture work here is grade A quality, and is the stuff of game-changing cinema. Rosa Salazar deserves huge credit for giving Alita a proper personality with range for us to completely champion her cause. At times you forget that she is CGI and that is perhaps the best accolade you can ever level at a CGI creation. This is all the more remarkable when you take into account that Alita (by design) doesn’t look human – she has larger than normal eyes which make her purposefully stand out. Salazar’s mo-cap work is amazing, and she gives Alita a sweet, welcoming demeanour that hooks you in from the start.

The entire ensemble does exceptionally well too – each with rounded characters that make a significant contribution to the story. As gorgeous as this film is, there’s nothing frivolous here with every single one of the major players delivering a standout moment in the film. Screen legend Christoph Waltz is his usual, reliable self and his exchanges with Alita are superb and genuinely moving at times. Keean Johnson (who incidentally looks just like a young Ben Schnetzer) really embraces his character and shares a nice chemistry alongside Salazar’s Alita. It’s wonderful to see genre-favourite Jeff Fahey appear in a cameo role (as a Cyborg cowboy who hunts with a pack of mechanical dogs in tow) and Jennifer Connelly makes a welcome return to the big screen and gives the difficult role of Dr. Chiren some nice levels of complexity.

Alita: Battle Angel

Credit: 20th Century Fox

The film is blessed with a wonderful array of criminals who are all as impressive as they are scary. Ed Skrein is wonderful as a vain bounty hunter who takes an instant dislike to Alita. Jackie Earle Haley is frightening as Grewishka, a huge man-monster of a Cyborg that hunts down its prey with no remorse. Michelle Rodriguez, Eiza González, Idara Victor, Lana Condor, Casper Van Dien and Bumblebee’s Jorge Lendeborg Jr. all do very well too. Mahershala Ali effortlessly steals his scenes and is quite brilliant as Vector, a local crime lord straight out of a 90s movie who is connected in the underworld and who has his own agenda.

This is a film that isn’t afraid to go big and it has at least 6 truly amazing set-pieces that push the boundaries of what we as an audience have experienced onscreen before. Alita: Battle Angel will go down as one of the landmark films of this decade – and its pursuit of grandstand set-pieces always leaves your jaw firmly on the ground. There’s a fantastic Motorball match (a bit like street roller-derby meets Speedball), some truly breath-taking fight sequences (especially involving a bunch of bounty-hunters in a bar) and some impressive hand-hand combat that, again, makes you question how this can all be CGI. But for all its bells and whistles, it’s the nuanced detail that leaves the biggest impression. The textures of Alita’s face, the subtleties of her expressions and the way she conveys discreet emotion, the totally believable physicality of the role – it all comes together to create something really special.

Alita: Battle Angel

Credit: 20th Century Fox

With plenty of heart and some sensational spectacle, Alita: Battle Angel is an absorbing and delightful cinema experience that really has to be experienced in IMAX where possible. The 3D element crucially sweeps you up into this world (at one point I got sweaty palms just by watching a CGI character stand on the edge of a CGI building). IMAX presents nearly half of the film with up to 26% more picture onscreen. Going beyond the standard frame of a cinema screen makes the experience far richer, and mixed with the upgraded sound and re-mastered image gives Alita: Battle Angel a truly unique edge. If you can take the leap, then watching it in IMAX will not disappoint one bit. As for the film itself, it easily becomes one of the outstanding highlights of the year so far, and delivers a startling insight into where the future of cinema could be heading.

Cast: Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Keean Johnson, Mahershala Ali, Jennifer Connelly, Eiza González, Idara Victor, Lana Condor, Michelle Rodriguez, Casper Van Dien, Jeff Fahey, Jorge Lendeborg Jr. Director: Robert Rodriguez Writer: James Cameron, Laeta Kalogridis, Robert Rodriguez (screenplay), Yukito Kishiro (based on the graphic novel series Gunnm) Certificate: 12A Duration: 122 mins Released by: 20th Century Fox Release date: 6th February 2019

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