'Alita: Battle Angel' Early Buzz: Robert Rodriguez Delivers A Beautiful Mess

Alita: Battle Angel has been a passion project for James Cameron for nearly two decades, but since he became busy in the world of Pandora for his Avatar sequels, he decided to step back into a producer role and let Robert Rodriguez (Sin City, Desperado) take the directing reins. Now we're on the brink of the film's release, and after the first positive wave of early buzz, the first full reviews have hit the web. What do critics think about the new sci-fi action film? 

/Film's Peter Sciretta saw a screening of Alita today, and he was pleasantly surprised:

Let's address the elephant in the room before we get into anything else: are Rosa Salazar's CG-enhanced eyes as distracting in the movie as they seem in the trailers? Not according to Inverse's Eric Francisco:

So much of the movie's best moments are because of Salazar, who brings Alita to life, so to speak. Her big CGI eyes, while a baffling creative decision, aren't intrusive or distracting. In fact, they're almost her secret weapon. Perhaps its psychology at play, but when coupled with Salazar's endearing performance, her cherubic eyes garner immediate sympathy from the audience. Through those expressive eyes you see Alita's naivety and curiosity towards the world and towards herself, and Rodriguez knows how to tell the hell out of that story.

Stepping back and exploring the film as a whole, David Jenkins at LittleWhiteLies says that this is a Rodriguez movie through and through – but even though the director has a mixed track record, this is one of his good ones:

From all the angles that matter, Alita: Battle Angel is undoubtedly a Robert Rodriguez movie. But by strange quirk, all those elements that have led him to be seen as a filmmaker wallowing in a deep creative rut, somehow coalesce here in elegant convergence. All those many negatives have become positives. If feels as if he's has become weary of the quickie B-movie schlock, and has channeled his energies into something more robust, exciting and sweetly romantic.

On the other hand, Matt Singer at ScreenCrush says the movie "bears almost none of the hallmarks of [Rodriguez's] previous work", and seemed mixed on the final results:

An overqualified cast (including Jennifer Connelly as Dr. Ido's ex and Michelle Rodriguez in a small but important role) is mostly here to make a very silly movie seem slightly less silly, and on that front they succeed. (One of these talented actors — I won't spoil who — also gets a death scene for the ages.) It does seem, though, like there's some subtext missing. Alita barely considers any of the existential questions about humanity that are typically central to this kind of sci-fi film. It's just a slick action film. That is one way, at least, it does feel like a Robert Rodriguez movie.

Karen Han at Polygon was impressed with the director's staging:

As implied by the title of the film (and to only slightly paraphrase an actual line), Alita's built for battle, and watching Salazar hand a bunch of grown men their asses is a thrill. Rodriguez seems to be one of the only directors working who has figured out how to coherently stage a blockbuster action sequence; Alita: Battle Angel is a whirlpool of CGI, and yet every character and action is easy to track instead of disappearing into a mishmash of shapes and similar colors. It'd be easy to ascribe that to the fact that motorball, given its finite number of players and clean course, naturally lends itself to a more easily comprehensible shoot, but even when Alita bursts past the bounds of the motorball course, the film remains crisp.

Empire's Dan Jolin echoed some of those same sentiments:

Thankfully, Rodriguez at least proves the right directing understudy, effortlessly upgrading his hands-on, low-fi, free-swaggering style to compete in the megabucks studio arena. When Alita pirouettes into action, crunching cyborg skulls with her slender fists or slicing them into robo-Chum with her iconic Damascus Blade, Rodriguez doesn't fail to deliver, keeping the choreography slick and inventive, while pushing the 12A rating as far as he can. We'd expect nothing less from the crazyhead behind Desperado, Planet Terror and From Dusk Till Dawn. There's even a glorious, bloody brawl in a bar-room which feels like a bionic Titty Twister. His glee for squirmy-violent beats is evident throughout, as is his aptitude for lean, propulsive storytelling — during the first hour at least.

Brandon Davis at ComicBook had nice things to say about the action, too – especially the Motorball sequence:

Alita soars highest when action sequences show off what Rodriguez and the Weta Digital team are capable of, bringing unique and often female-driven fireworks to the big screen in what can only be described as a visual feast. This is especially true in its Motorball sequences, which is an intense and brutal battle on a slalom. It's as if iRobot had a masterfully computerized baby with Rollerball and winds up being one of the most important (and entertaining) elements of Alita from start to finish.

But the film isn't receiving totally universal praise. Beth Elderkin at io9 says:

It's a middling sci-fi drama, fueled by clunky exposition and special effects that might look cool now but won't hold up. The film's only saving grace is the actual angel leading the way...

Salazar somehow manages to shine through this drudge of a storyline, but the whole thing feels tired and archaic. It might have had roots in the original manga, but here it comes across as a relic of Cameron's older work, like Titanicand Avatar, stories that simply don't play the same in 2019. As we saw with films like Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, you don't need a love story to give a female character motivation to do the right thing. It comes across as regressive and kind of sexist—especially when it's at the expense of what should have been the emotional core between Alita and Ido.

Phil De Semlyn at Time Out also felt like the story wasn't up to snuff:

Although the story plays out in predictable ways, Rodriguez handles the combat sequences well enough as Alita's killer skill set ramps up. But the dialogue is exposition-heavy and lumpen – especially by Cameron's lofty standards. With none of the usual killer payoff lines or jokey moments, the more-than-solid supporting cast – including Mahershala Ali, Ed Skrein and Jennifer Connolly – are stranded in earnestness. Ali and Skrein do what they can in generic bad roles, but the menace levels end up diluted by a surfeit of villains. It's a rare thing to say about a Cameron project, but you come out feeling like you've seen it all before.

Molly Freeman at ScreenRant also felt the story was lacking:

Where Alita: Battle Angel struggles is the story, which was worked on by Cameron, [Shutter Island writer Laeta] Kalogridis and Rodriguez in an attempt to bring Kishiro's manga to live-action. However, it becomes clear from the inconsistent pacing – at times moving too quickly through events, and other times languishing too long on certain story beats – that this is a much longer story cut down to its barest bones. The result is a two-hour movie that somehow feels three hours long because so much is jam-packed into it, but Alita: Battle Angel still leaves major gaps in the story and world-building. What is included in Alita: Battle Angel is fascinating and the movie does manage to flesh out Iron City and Zalem as much as it can, but it's almost as if the most interesting aspects were saved for a sequel.

And Peter Bradshaw cuts right to the core in his review for The Guardian:

Alita: Battle Angel is a film with Imax spectacle and big effects. But for all its scale, it might end up being put on for 13-year-olds as a sleepover entertainment. It doesn't have the grownup, challenging, complicated ideas of Ghost in the Shell. A vanilla dystopian romance.


From visionary filmmakers James Cameron (AVATAR) and Robert Rodriguez (SIN CITY), comes ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL, an epic adventure of hope and empowerment. When Alita (Rosa Salazar) awakens with no memory of who she is in a future world she does not recognize, she is taken in by Ido (Christoph Waltz), a compassionate doctor who realizes that somewhere in this abandoned cyborg shell is the heart and soul of a young woman with an extraordinary past. As Alita learns to navigate her new life and the treacherous streets of Iron City, Ido tries to shield her from her mysterious history while her street-smart new friend Hugo (Keean Johnson) offers instead to help trigger her memories. But it is only when the deadly and corrupt forces that run the city come after Alita that she discovers a clue to her past – she has unique fighting abilities that those in power will stop at nothing to control. If she can stay out of their grasp, she could be the key to saving her friends, her family and the world she's grown to love.

Alita: Battle Angel arrives in theaters on February 14, 2019.