Pop Culture

Reviews For The Easily Distracted:
Alita: Battle Angel

Title: Alita: Battle Angel

Describe This Movie In One Kid Gorgeous Quote:

JOHN MULANEY: The passwords passed, you've correctly guessed, but now it’s time for the robot test!

Brief Plot Synopsis: Amnesiac cyborg learns to live, love, and lop limbs in the 26th century.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: 3.5 Cuisinarts out of 5

Tagline: "Her time is now."

Better Tagline: "Yes, Mahershala Ali is in this."

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: In the year 2563 (sounds like a bad hippie song), Earth has been ravaged by "The Fall," which was either an interstellar war or the inevitable outcome of AOC's socialist economic policies. While scavenging the trash heaps around Iron City, Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz) discovers the remains of a female cyborg, rebuilds her, and christens her "Alita" (Rosa Salazar). Alita has no memory of her past, but demonstrates advanced combat skills. Like a robo-Jason Bourne, only taller than Matt Damon (probably), Alita must decide what path to take in a world of death sports and bounty hunters in the employ of the sinister Vector (Mahershala Ali).

"Critical" Analysis: If someone told you there was a movie in theaters right now starring three actors who've recently won Academy Awards, you might think, "Man, there must be some powerhouse scenery chewing going on in that flick." And you wouldn't be wrong, exactly. You just might not also suspect that same movie would be set centuries in the future, and said "chewing" was actually killer cyborgs chopping each other's faces off.

Is it mildly surprising to find Ali making a heel turn, Waltz lending what dignity he can to the proceedings, or Jennifer Connelly apparently paying off a bet to her Little Children costar Jackie Earle Haley (who plays the hulking Grewishka) as Vector's favorite engineer and Ido's ex-wife? Sure, but what's more surprising is how much fun Alita actually is.

The breezy tone is no small accomplishment, because the world of 2563 is — believe it or not — more dystopic than that of 2019. True, the divide between wealthy (who dwell in the sky city of Zalem) and everyone in Iron City is simply wealth inequality taken to its logical conclusion, only this time there's barely any lip service given to the idea of moving on up, Jeffersons style (alas, the American Dream was just one of the many casualties of "The Fall.")

Yet everyone is still pretty cheerful amid the casual brutality, possibly because of the likelihood they can replace missing limbs or organs by paying Dr. Ido with a bushel of (probably radioactive) corn. Iron City is essentially Bartertown, with Motorball as the more high tech alternative to Thunderdome. The sport is also the only way for regular schmoes to gain passage to Zalem, and only then by transforming themselves into roller derby Terminators ("Derbinators?").

Even the resultant violence is pretty antiseptic. Rodriguez skirts his usual blood-related rating issues (e.g. Sin City) with gore-free body trauma and blue cyborg plasma, underscored by the knowledge modern science can usually replace whatever damage is done on the Motorball circuit or by the omnipresent "Hunter-Warriors" messily collecting bounties. In short, Alita is a great way to introduce your kids to the concept of multiple dismemberments.

It's also predictable as hell. From the not very subtle references to Alita's anti-matter heart and the Martian enemy's mysterious tech to Chekhov's Zalem's giant spinning razor rings, nothing that happens will be remotely surprising. Nothing except for making a movie that's nothing more than table setting for a sequel, that is. Bold move for a film struggling to make a profit.

Speaking of: didn't this movie come out a few weeks ago? Yes, and thank you for acknowledging that sometimes movie reviewers have prior commitments — like taking their kids to the Rodeo to see Kacey Musgraves — that preclude them from attending a screening that week.

Given that Salazar's an entirely computer generated creation, we have to rely on her voice work, which is . . . enthusiastic, at least. And it's not just Salazar: this is the most effort it feels like director Robert Rodriguez has put into anything in years. Alita: Battle Angel is everything you'd expect from a movie about an adolescent girl who also happens to be an alien-engineered killing machine. And if that description doesn't sound terrifying, you've clearly never raised teenagers.

Alita: Battle Angel is in theaters now. Did you know cyborgs love chocolate?
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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar