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.