The tendency of destiny sometimes precludes a changing perception of time. The latest entry into the Terminator franchise brings back the texture of Sarah Connor, the first coming of the female action hero besides Ripley for many years. Now in an era of strong female action roles, the most interesting play in the ideal of Sarah Connor is how tired you know she feels. The irony bakes into her hate, hate for the Terminator, hate for the impending doom, hate for the vigilante she has been forced to become. But Connor as a character has always been about survival. Without giving too much away to the plot, the notion of prophecy or The One as mainstreamed by “The Matrix” seems to add an idea that time fixes whatever changes have been made so the end result is the same. MacKenzie Davis comes in as a protector this time, an altered human sent to protect a young girl who has become a focal point for the machines of a different future who have sent other machines to take her out. The paradox is that this sounds all too familiar in many ways.
The problem is that T2 was such a seminal and original film in this regard that it is hard for anyone, even one of the originators to hold up to it. Granted the sequences feel bigger than some of the previous Terminator entries but not enough to make it original. This is not director Tim Miller’s fault. He tries his best to balance all the expectations and the film is effective but ends up at many of the same points. Schwarzenegger who has been present in all the films throughout has been given a slightly different angle but nothing that directly intensifies the stakes. Certain metaphors of current society do make their way in making for some unusual set pieces but ultimately it feels like a road traveled before however well made.
By Tim Wassberg
The mixture of James Cameron and Robert Rodriguez definitely has a great angle to it. “Alita: Battle Angel” was a title heard years ago and moved around as myth actually for a time. Harrison Ford was attached per se at one point. This story of stories that Cameron had developed for years actually was something Rodriguez told Inside Reel in a Fest Track interview at SxSW in March 2018. Reading the first 3 volumes before talking with producer Jon Landau as well as leads Rosa Salazar & Keaan Johnson in Austin (see their Fest Track interview here), gave a good perception of the structure but what is one to say between an anime/graphic novel that was written many years ago versus the ideals of the actual script (which having been co-written by James Cameron definitely should retain his story sense). What “Alita: Battle Angel” does very well is keep itself focused. The one true balance that stays pretty crisp and clear throughout the film is Rosa Salazar as Alita. Many may think that it is simply a computer performance but that could not put the sense of innocence, anger and breathe in what is seen here. Granted it is not Andy Serkis but who can compete on that level. What Rosa brings is a soul to this girl who was originally built as a killing machine. Salazar has been missing in part from many of the media rounds per se (in large part) but that might be better so the character simply exists on her own. Rodriguez’s touch is here for sure but it is sometimes lost in the bigger sequences. Oddly enough, this reviewer kept seeing “Speed Racer” in the race sequences per se. They are good but at a certain point are more video game oriented.
The character build even though it takes a while in the beginning does the film correctly but there is no “a-ha” moment. The scene though where Alita first tries her new body with fighting moves shows a path to identity and the sequence inside a bar (a very visceral scene in the graphic novel) definitely comes to life. The reason why is that all the characters in there are so unique. It makes one think of “From Dusk Till Dawn”. What seems to be missing is some of Robert’s camera tricks and stylistic touches although to be fair Rodriguez did mention in that same interview that this was not him doing a Robert Rodriguez film but instead doing a Jim Cameron film. So in that respect it does work, the script is tight, the visuals are fluid and it does its job. It is fun to watch but it is not spectacular. There is never quite a moment where Alita becomes the chosen one or that her love against her own life will ring out. One scene inside the apartment of Hugo (played by Johnson) comes close and really makes the CG of Rosa as a cyborg really key into the story. The climax, like most, has to serve a story point and that is understandable. Christoph Waltz does an admirable job as the Doc and Jennifer Connelly & Mahershala Ali do their part within the structure but Ed Skrein as a competitor is the only one who brings an edge to the proceedings. Here is hoping “Alita” connects to the audience because unlike many recent popcorn films, it understands the concept of a beginning, middle and end within a true story arc. But it is in the silent moments, when you can hear the acting, that make the most impact. One simple act of Alita laying her head on her father’s shoulder has almost more power than a large action sequence. But that said, one does not exist in the large scale, big budget film without the other.
By Tim Wassberg