Alita: Battle Angel works best as thrill ride through an inventive and imaginative cyberpunk world. What the film may lack in narrative strengths, it manages to cover over by excelling at exciting, engaging visuals that bring the world to life, along with some absolute bonkers set-pieces. If the movie doesn't really hold together for you as a story, it at least provides plenty of thrilling scenes and moments for fans to dig their teeth into.
So, when you go to see the film this weekend, it might be best to just embrace how much of the move plays out like a thrill ride and see Alita: Battle Angel in 4D.
Alita: Battle Angel director Robert Rodriguez and producer James Cameron do an amazing job of adapting Yukito Kishiro's manga Gunnm to the big screen. While the story might not always be up to snuff with the production value, the world of Steel City is vivid and feels lived-in. It's exactly the kind of location you'd want a film to explore, and there are plenty of little touches that help it feel as real as possible.
Perhaps the best touch is the addition of Motorball, the most popular sport in the cyber-punk world, played in a large circular arena, or in the street pick-up game version of it, a tight area reminiscent of a skate park. Players utilize roller skates to add to their mobility, and the game seems to operate on a "no penalties" set of rules. Players can elbow, flip, even rip their opponents apart. In a world of robotic parts and spare bodies, it's not the end of the world when someone gets reduced to just a head. Well, at least not all the time.
There are two sequences in the film where Motorball becomes the main focus of the action, and both are the perfect for 4D screenings, which use technology that typically works best with smaller beats and subtle touches in order to enhance the film. The theater seats will lean back when the camera pans up, and little painless vibrational jolts shoot through the chair when the film features injuries. It's all about bringing the viewer further into the experience, and with Alita, it succeeds.
But where the film really works in tune with the format is when Motorball is in play. During a street game early in the film, the audience is right there with Alita (Rosa Salazar) as she tries to get the hang of moving around on skates. The seats shake as she does, an effective integration of the technology with the film. While other fights may go a little overboard with the shaking, the movement works well with Motorball. The style becomes even more pronounced towards the end of the film, when Alita ends up in a much more high-stakes version of the game. She's moving around attackers and utilizing different aspects of the track, dodging and juking around everything in her path.
The 4D screening takes the shaking seats to the extreme, tilting the audience along with her every movement. With each turn, the viewer feels like they're barely avoiding death alongside Alita. Basically, the film turns into an amusement park ride, ala Star Tours at Disneyland and Disney World. It works incredibly well, elevating what's already one of the highlights of the film to the next level. If anything, the 4D system makes it even more apparent that the film should have focused less on trying to set up potential future films and should have spent more time in the Motorball arena.
Directed by Robert Rodriguez, Alita: Battle Angel stars Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Ed Skrein, Jackie Earle Haley, Keean Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Lana Condor and Eiza González. The film opens on February 15.