By: Michael Miller Jr.
This picture is one of the most thoughtfully indulgent big blockbuster films I have seen in recent memory. It reeks of that Jim Cameron aesthetic that penetrates down to every minutiae of the film; from the physics of Alita moving through the water or rolling around a stadium with a heavy metal ball in her hand, to the exuberance of Iron City and its embedded culture, this film is architected and it feels like a passion project. The 20+ years Cameron has been working on the script really shows and I don’t believe that you could have picked a more perfect person to realize that script than the director Robert Rodriguez, a cartoonist.
Who better to translate a comic book to the big screen? His use of iconography, I found to be profound. The frenetic way the fights were choreographed; the moonlit sky that hung overhead at the motor ball tournament; the cinematic parallels starting from the moment Alita is carried from the scrapyard to the moment she finds herself in a downed spaceship; Alita descending into an underground crevice, a spire of light casting down on this avenging angel as she fought Grewishka. This iconography plays a large part in why I feel that the cinematography was more than just serviceable and that the visuals are more than simply eye-pleasing. There is a certain level of ritual to some of the scenes and parallels to the angelic nature of Alita. A divine and underworldly dichotomy of Zalem and Iron City. “The Fall”, harkens back to the biblical account of the tower of babel and the propagation of languages and culture thereafter. The class system represents a very real social construct we see to this day. For all of its spectacle, this film is not lacking in subtextual narrative.
Something else that made this film stand out from the rest for me, is its protagonist. She’s incredibly honest and sincere. Much of that is compliments of the phenomenal Andy-Serkis-level performance of Rosa Salazar as our titular character, Alita. She genuinely brings Alita to life. Her personality is infectious, her curiosity, naivete and adventurous spirit is authentic.
Rosa carried this film on her back, elevating every interaction she participated in. I don’t say this as a dig to the rest of the cast. The movie leaned in on Rosa heavily, the supporting characters only are as important as they relate to Alita; hence the “supporting”. They did well for what they were given and their decision to make this a singular story as opposed to an ensemble made for a return on its investment. That return is seeing this character grow from beginning to end, which is a difficult feat in itself, let alone in an action film where that expectation doesn’t always need to be met to entertain.
In closing, I believe this film can easily be passed off as a “guilty pleasure” or a fun popcorn movie, which is fine, and in many ways it is indeed all of these. However, I feel that this movie exudes a certain passion, heart and humanity that gives it staying power and makes this visual and auditory spectacle more than just an empty one.