Laissez Faire

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Musings #37: The Problem With Alita – Battle Angel (#amwriting)

Alita was worth watching just for the special effects, action, and CGI and I would recommend that the movie be given a viewing just for that aspect alone.  The world building was spectacular and anime was brought to life seamlessly. For most of the movie, I was questioning what was real and what was enhanced. They kept a lot of the original anime adaptation in there, too (I watched it after I watched the movie).

So much cyberpunk and crazy action!

There might be spoilers so be warned.

To be fair, the opening of the film and the start of the story worked well and they did what they needed to do to get things going, but then Hugo happened. The story, character development, and dialogue fell flat. I found myself wanting the film to get it over with and get to the next action sequence. And to cap it off there was no damn payoff.

Love is More than a Shoehorned Romance

Hugo.

Ugh. Why!?

The film didn’t need a lackluster, bland, awkward romance. What can I say about the movie version him except the whole thing had the consistency of Cheez Whiz. Let’s check the boxes:

1. First teen-aged boy Alita met after awakening
2. The only boy of her age with interaction and speaking lines
3. He thinks she’s cute (I can only presume from all the mooning faces)
4. He can show her the world: shining, glimmering, splendid.

I will buy “attraction at first sight” (even naive unrequited love) but not the insta-love. It wasn’t even necessary for the plot. As long as Alita has a group of friends she cares about and the audience cares about them, friendship-love will more than do the job. Hugo’s two friends were underutilized (what were their names again?) and had about as much impact on the story as a stripped lug nut. Give me a damn backstory not googly eyes.

Friends (including Hugo) could introduce Alita to the wonders of the streets, chocolate, motorball, Zalem, and how to defy your guardian by enabling a lack of impulse control. Pals can grow to love and care for each other. The audience can be appropriately heartbroken when a friend betrays, or is led astray, or dies. Painful groan-worthy romance unnecessary, but if one were to develop it could more easily grow organically as the story progresses without being the focus.

Plus, it give other characters something to do other than hold up scenery.

 

Not All Villains Need to Be Evil for Evil’s Sake

It’s okay to relate to a villain with understandable (if morally corrupt) goals. Some villains like Nova are irredeemable and the audience can take having to speculate about motives. Then you have the baddie fodder who are there for the thrills and heart pumping ass kicking. What doesn’t work is to have morally ambiguous or redeemable villains who have no reason for doing what they do.

Chiren.

From my understanding, she was supposed to be the character who chooses to walk back into the light.

I didn’t care or want to care.

Beyond being a costume rack, Chiren did nothing to advance the plot which is a shame because she should be part of the story. Even in the “one defining moment” her actions were anti-climatic because there had been no proper set up. Chemistry of any kind lacked. The outcome would have been the same with or without her input–her services weren’t set-up well enough to be indispensable. Big chunks of this character were missing because of the inadequate dialogue and acting.

Chiren lost a daughter but any sense of past caring or love was not displayed even in the flashback. One dimensional, wooden characters don’t tug on the viewer. We are not invested in their arc. Viewers were told she was ruthless and brilliant, but I got very little of either from any of her time onscreen with Vector.

Hit snooze and call me when it’s over.

And that brings us to Vector. The classic lackey being controlled by the mysterious Nova. So much potential and out of all the baddies he was the most rounded. He’s greedy and quite happy to be used by Nova as long as he gets to keep the lavish lifestyle and his brain in his head. I was so excited! He’d rather rule in Hades than be good in Paradise.

So much disappointment. With all the beautiful CGI and special effects, when Vector explained the root of his “promises” and showed Alita one of the two ways to get to Zalem. Well…

Let’s just say the box should have stayed closed. The explanation alone was better.  The visual was comical (I am being nice), and that’s a bad thing.

In film (and books)  you want to haunt people’s dreams and mess with their psyche with a horrifying reveal.  You want people to be feeling this when a terrifying revelation unfolds:

 

Not this:

 

There were better grossosities in my high school’s low budget biology lab. It sucks to have the wind taken out of the sails of a long-awaited bad guy death. Please, let’s go back to the baddie fodder beat down. Those were so very satisfying.

 

When You Make a Promise Keep It

Alita promises at the start that Nova is the ultimate goal. It all hinges on getting to Zalem. We wait the entire movie. We see in flashback how not to get there (awesome!) and we get a scene of convincing Hugo not to get himself killed (whatever because they made this character insufferable but I’ll go with it) by doing that very thing. And then…

 

The movie ends before Alita steps a foot on Zalem. Sure there is another promise that she will get there by becoming a champion…

The ending hurt me. I’m all for sequels but damn! If you aren’t going to give me Zalem, then don’t promise me Zalem.

Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid

“The strong prey on the weak down here.”

We can see that, thanks Hugo.

     Alita: Does it bother you that I’m not completely human?
     Hugo: You are the most human person I have ever met.

 

And next on my list…

When Alita gets her new body, an explanation follows that the cool nanotech is conforming to her vision of herself.

No. Just, no.

The original body was small and child-like because it was designed by a father for his daughter.  Perfect!

The big eyes were shown to be part of the original cyborg design. But the rest of the original body is not design specific? Wait, what? I can accept that a cyborg body might be designed on purpose to be slender with hints of curvaceousness to conserve space. No need to explain. It is also fitting with how Alita is drawn in the manga and anime — I can get behind that. I can’t get behind a cyborg (who gets to dictate her appearance) choosing to look sexy frail.  It doesn’t make sense, especially since the original body looked perfect in its natural state. Here the explanation drew attention to the wrong thing and made me ask questions. And then Hugo got all ogle-eyed and weird…and that triggered more questions.

Simple fix. Stop with the exposition and shut up Hugo.

Final Thoughts I Didn’t Hate the Movie

Lest someone thinks I thought the movie was bad, it wasn’t. I have seen a lot of horrible movies and Alita wasn’t among them. It just suffered from common problems: too much exposition, not enough character development, underutilized characters (the nurse could have been such an asset to Alita’s worldview), uninspired dialog, and wasted time on unnecessary romance.

That said, Alita herself was well-developed and the parent-child relationship with the father evolved over the course of the movie. There were some awkward exchanges and a case of “not saying what you should say to avoid misunderstandings,” but I understood why it went that way.

Alita’s fight sequences and her growth from wide-eyed innocence, to anger, to revelation, to acceptance, to determination were all there. I loved every action scene and the painstakingly drawn world. It is the first anime adaptation-to-live-action that I felt fully immersed in. I believed every bit of tech, practical or not.

Bottom line?

Watch it for the CGI eye-candy and the action sequences. If you are lucky to have the option, go for the 3D experience.

If you want a narrative that doesn’t repeat or wander all over the place read the manga.

 

 

 

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3 comments on “Musings #37: The Problem With Alita – Battle Angel (#amwriting)

  1. Sophie Kat
    March 8, 2019

    This is probably my second favorite female-led movie (after Wonder Woman). But I agree, the character of Hugo fell flat to me and that was the worst thing about the movie. I understand that Alita would feel awkward, off-chemistry love for Hugo because she was basically like a baby that was just reborn again. So her naivety worked there. But Hugo’s feelings towards Alita felt so off and forced. His character wasn’t convincing either. Overall, indeed, the movie was an eye-candy and the action sequences were well-done. I enjoyed it a lot. The movie was too short to establish everything that the manga has to offer, though. But excited for a sequel.

    Like

    • Laissez Faire
      March 8, 2019

      I have problems with Wonder Woman, too. 🙂 (I watch the final battle with the sound off…much better.) But still enjoyed the movie and all the doors it opened.

      Yes, I agree the naivete worked really well on Alita’s end. The Hugo character was just stripped…dare I say they ran him through the Twilight wringer?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Sophie Kat
    March 8, 2019

    Wonder Woman had a weak boss villain. Thus the third act was also its weakest point. But lovely character development, exposition, story and message overall.

    If Hugo was out of the equation, I think the movie would be much, much better. I wanted to cut all of his scenes, hahaha! They could do so much better.

    Like

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