“I’d Do Whatever I Had To For You. I’d Give You Whatever I Have. I’d Give You My Heart…”
Reportedly placed on the indefinite James Cameron waiting list after his determination to focus on the long awaited Avatar sequels instead, Alita: Battle Angel sees the American pass the bulk of the buck down to Robert Rodriguez (Sin City, Spy Kids) who directs and brings to life the world of Yukito Kishiro’s famous manga series of the same name first published in the early 1990’s. Utilising a screenplay formed by both Cameron and Avatar colleague. Jon Landau, Rodriguez’s blockbuster combines a familiar steampunk, action-based sensibility with adventurous and top notch special effects for a movie which sees Rose Salazar (Maze Runner: The Death Cure) as the titular cyborg who is located by Christoph Waltz’s (Django Unchained) Dr. Dyson Ido within a junkyard pile dumped in the heart of the aptly named Iron City. After repairing both her body and mind, Alita seeks to understand her ambiguous past and purpose amidst the threat of warring hierarchies, murderous contract killers and the sudden discovery of both love and friendship, all under the watchful eye of Ido who seems to be hiding a much greater understanding of Alita’s secretive origins than one might expect. By seemingly gluing together an array of familiar famous movies which occupy the same genre space, Alita is a functional if wildly underwhelming cinematic experience which not only seems rather inconsistent and messy from a narrative point of view, but ultimately makes you wonder what could have been if Cameron was able to direct in the first place.
Between the combination of Rodriguez and Cameron, whose reluctance to direct allows him the freedom of a highly influential production credit, it is clear to see that the main goal of Alita is to create a living, breathing and spectacularly cinematic fictional world, one filled with clear nods to Blade Runner and every single neo-noir futureworld since Ridley Scott changed the face of science fiction forever, and with the aid of simply brilliant digital effects and production design, they do manage to effectively pull it off, particularly in the case of the central character of Alita who although heavily falls under the bracket of the uncanny valley, is simply incredible to behold, with Salazar’s performance effectively managing to come across a really interesting and engaging leading heroine. With wasted performances from many of the film’s pedigree cast however, with the likes of Mahershala Ali (Green Book) and Jennifer Connelly (Only the Brave) struggling to give depth to their equally one-dimensional and overly forgettable characters, and a scattershot array of endless plot threads which not only become overly confusing but seem to live up to Rodriguez’s claims that the film would push an extensive catalogue of the original manga all into one, such decisions ultimately weaken the final product as a whole, resulting in Alita becoming yet another frustrating example of wasted potential, and for a movie which is clearly seen as the start point of a whole new science fiction franchise, seems to be going absolutely nowhere, continuing a common trend of movies in the ilk of The Mummy and Mortal Engines by being films which dream big, but are ultimately let down by failing to address successfully the first hurdle which comes their way.
Overall Score: 5/10
“You Can’t Stop What’s Coming. Death Always Wins…”
Growing up with Stephen King books going as far back as I can remember, the cinematic accessibility of the American’s many novels has resulted in a variety of classic movies over the course of nearly half a decade, and whilst The Shining, The Shawshank Redemption and Stand By Me are arguably the standout examples, even when Kubrick’s famous horror barely resembles the source material, The Dark Tower series has seemingly been in production hell since the first whispers of a possible adaptation came to the floor at the turn of the 21st century. With previously attached filmmakers J.J. Abrams and Ron Howard both passing on the project, the task has fallen into the hands of Danish director Nikolaj Arcel, who along with King’s own blessings and Howard’s descent into a production role, has finally managed to create a live-action adaptation of King’s monstrous fantasy epic. Being an avid reader of all things King, The Dark Tower series is indeed a collection of novels which I have enjoyably devoured, and whilst King’s own notion of such a series being a cross between The Lord of the Rings and Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy, the novels do have weaknesses, particularly within the concluding three releases, and whilst many have bulked at particular high profile changes which have occurred in the transition from paper to screen, Arcel’s adaptation is a release I have been eagerly awaiting since the first trailer was announced and with the fundamental and historical issues some stories have when making the jump to the big screen, the question on everyone’s lips is; was it worth the wait?
In a nutshell? Not quite, and whilst Arcel’s adaptation of King’s novels suffers from a wide range of basic filmmaking issues, The Dark Tower was a movie in which I was never bored, never lost in the rapid overlapping of plots and crucially, never bothered by the gargantuan and radical differences that have occurred between the process from paper to screen, and because of this, the movie was a rare case of a film which seemed to be rather enjoyable even when the weaknesses are so apparent on screen. In my own view, my ability to overlook such downfalls such as awful editing, ear-scraping dialogue and cheesy special effects, is ultimately down to my affinity to the source material and although the convoluted plot will undoubtedly seem incoherent and completely bonkers to an audience coming to the film with no previous knowledge of the characters or the setting, Arcel’s movie is so obviously an adaptation made solely for the readers of the series, and for that alone, I applaud the ballsy approach to create such. With obvious production problems at the heart of the finished article, The Dark Tower is a movie which worked more than it failed, and whilst the rafter of negative reviews and poor box office numbers will unfortunately class the film as a failure, Arcel’s adaptation will no doubt be the beginning of a series which is destined to be explored much, much more either on the big screen or the small.