Following the Story, with Alita: Battle Angel

Spoilers ahead for Alita: Battle Angel! Check out the movie first, if you haven’t yet seen it, then come back and read this post.

Ready? Here we go…

Alita: Battle Angel pulled me in, walked me through its world, introduced me to it characters, and hinted that more lay ahead and elsewhere.

Then the writer(s) just had to interrupt this sense of discovery with scenes that amounted to nothing more than an excuse to insert action. I really wish filmmakers would stop doing that, acting as if the audience is so ADHD that they can’t sit still without an action scene dropped into the film every so often. It interrupts what could be a well-told story.

As I said, Alita had me in its world. I enjoyed how Alita was found by a doctor, rebuilt, and saw everything around her with new eyes, and brought us into her world through her questions and the answers given to her. She found a friend and was introduced to a sport, Motor Ball. She was told about a city in the sky that the people on the ground are barred from visiting, and it felt as that was where fate would take her on this journey. Rather than follow the story, however, Alita suddenly turns the doctor into a bounty hunter, her friend into someone who captures people with cybernetic implants to forcefully remove the implants and sell them, and Alita into a hardened warrior on a mission. There are also scenes that make sure the audience knows exactly who the bad guys are and that they’re after Alita. These scenes are so forced and badly done that I wonder if they’re even from the same writer(s) of the discovery scenes.

In Alita’s story of discovery, the better part of the film, there are a couple of obvious missed opportunities. First, when Alita and her friend are talking about the sky city, her friend mentions that if he was strong like her, he would climb up to the city. Now, you’d think that’s would Alita would do, because it’s where she wants to go. Instead, the movie diverges from this path to have Alita follow the doctor and find out that he’s a Hunter Warrior, spurring her to want to be a Hunter Warrior as well for no reason that I can recall. I think the story, and Alita’s character, would’ve been better served by her sneaking out at night to attempt to climb up to the sky city. If she almost makes it but ends up failing, then the consequence of this action may be a negative affect on her relationship with the doctor. Perhaps he’s beginning not to trust her or maybe he ends up wanting to follow her the next time she leaves with her friend.

When her friend takes her to a Motor Ball competition, this is where another opportunity to follow the story presented itself. Her friend tells her that the Final Champion of the Motor Ball competition is taken up to the sky city. What if this information inspires Alita to enter the Motor Ball competition, seeing as how the doctor’s ex-wife is involved in the sport? Now, we would have Alita trying again to make her way up to the sky city. This would be following the story. Instead, we get Alita registering to become a Hunter Warrior, entering a bar where Hunter Warriors gather, and giving them all a speech about how they all need to come together and join her in a battle against the bad people, and of course the Hunter Warriors laugh at her, she challenges them to fight her, and it’s all nothing more than an excuse to insert an action scene that’s really devoid of any developed stakes.

Later in the film, they get back around to Alita wanting to go to the sky city, and her friend convinces her to enter the Motor Ball competition, but by then, I was wondering why she didn’t just enter earlier when she found out that becoming a Final Champion earns her a free trip to where she wants to go.

I would’ve enjoyed this movie far more if the doctor had remained a doctor, someone who was a part of Alita’s “ordinary” world, and I would’ve enjoyed seeing Alita’s discovery of the extraordinary world hovering high above her head. There’s a wonderful part of the story that had the doctor rebuilding Alita using the cybernetic body he built for his daughter (who died some time ago), and at one point, Alita makes it clear that she is not his daughter. That would’ve been a far more interesting dynamic to build Alita’s discovery and quest around: the relationship between Alita and the doctor.

Do you know what makes The Karate Kid such an interesting and memorable film more than 30 years after its release? It’s not the karate. It’s not the fight scenes. It’s the relationship between Daniel and Mr. Miyagi. That is what holds that movie together and makes it what it is. Everything else in the film is built around that relationship, and we can see that the writer(s) followed that story from beginning to end. If Alita: Battle Angel had gone this route, we would’ve had a special movie on our hands. The movie certainly starts on that story path, but it’s a shame that the story just isn’t followed.

2 thoughts on “Following the Story, with Alita: Battle Angel

  1. Brian

    Although I agree with you that character building and development is very important in a movie, there are a few points that you might have misunderstood about this movie.

    Alita was never obsessed with going to Zalem, the sky city. She just wanted to live a peaceful life with those she loved. It was Hugo, the love interest, who was obsessed with going to Zalem. Why would Alita run away when her family: the doctor, the nurse and boyfriend were down in Iron City?

    Another thing, the movie is called Alita: Battle Angel, meaning that people who watch the movie expect action. This movie has some of the best action sequences in film history. There is no shaky-cam or doggy-cam as I like to call it (since it usually looks like a lazy director just straps on a camcorder on a dog and have it run around in circles while the actors pretend to be fighting). The action sequences are clear and not cut up into a jarbled mess. It has unique and creative weapons and fight choreography instead of the typical shooting and explosions that we’ve all seen a million times in a hundred different films.

    Lastly, Alita tries to join the Hunter Warriors so that she can get help fighting the bad guys who are trying to kill her and Dr. Ido. Alita is not the type to run away scared. She’s a fighter and she “will not stand by in the presence of evil.”

    1. Thank you for the reply. I appreciate your comments and your opinion. I do disagree though. Alita didn’t have to be obsessed with going to the sky city. The fact that the story points to this mysterious city in the sky is enough for the story to go in this direction. Alita doesn’t have to be obsessed, only curious enough to move to action. She wouldn’t be running away from everyone, just investigating, and this investigation can open up more doors and story options. When you’re writing, you don’t want to push away your options for the sake of telling the story exactly the way you want to tell it. You have to allow the story to unfold, and Alita only does that up until she follows the doctor for no reason at all and gets into the Hunter Warrior thing for no reason at all.

      Speaking of action, “people expect action” isn’t a good reason to stick action into a story. Action should flow with the story, not interrupt it. What makes the original Star Wars movie so great, for example, is that action doesn’t interrupt the story. All the action is a part of the story. Imagine if Luke went back home to find his aunt and uncle dead but ran into some Stormtroopers there. Luke pulls out his blaster, and we have an action scene. However, this would interrupt the story of Luke’s grief at finding his aunt and uncle dead, his returning to Obi-Wan knowing that he now wants to go with Obi-Wan to join the Rebellion against the Empire. Luke doesn’t even fight Stormtroopers while at Mos Eisley, and there were plenty of them around. Instead, we see Luke grow as a character, and when he finally does participate in the action, we feel that we’re in that action with him; we’re on the journey with him because we were allowed to grow with him. This is what Alita doesn’t do right. It doesn’t allow us to grow with the character. It just inserts stuff into the film, interrupting the story as if the only thing interesting about the character is that she fights. However, I found her ability to fight as the least interesting thing about her.

      I also disagree that this film has some of the best action scenes in film history. There are plenty of movies that I would rank far above Alita in terms of action: Saving Private Ryan, for instance.

      Finally, the bad guys trying to kill Alita and the doctor are part of what I had a problem with in the film. The bad guys are just inserted into the film rather than introduced into the story as we follow Alita on her quest to find her past. The start of the film showed so much potential, but that potential wasn’t fulfilled, because the writer(s) thought the better option was to insert bad guys and fight scenes into a movie that could’ve had that stuff anyway along with a character we could’ve grown with if patience was shown in the development of the story.

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