Alita: Battle Angel


Angels in battle.

(2019) Science Fiction (20th Century) Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Ed Skrein, Jackie Earle Haley, Keean Johnson, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Lana Condor, Idara Victor, Jeff Fahey, Elza Gonzalez, Derek Mears, Leonard Wu, Racer Maximilliano Rodriguez-Avellán, Marko Zador, Rick Yune, Hugo Perez, Casper Van Dien, Elle LaMont. Directed by Robert Rodriguez

 

Alita: Battle Angel has been a passion project for director James Cameron for nearly two decades; unfortunately, his ambitious projects were time-consuming and it has only been recently when the technology caught up to Cameron’s vision for the legendary Japanese manga this is based on.

Scientist-by-day, bounty-hunter-by-night Dr. Edo (Waltz) discovers a deactivated cyborg in a garbage dump. Realizing what she is, he reactivates her, leaving her without memory of her past. Alita (Salazar) is eager to discover who she is, how she knows virtually every fighting style known to man and what’s to become of her. Dr. Edo wants to keep her hidden and safe, but there are forces who are aware they can make a fortune off of Alita, led by the nefarious Vector (Ali). Complicating things is Hugo (Johnson), who becomes the main squeeze of Alita, who dreams of leaving the poverty of Iron City for the paradise of Zalem, the cloud city where the well-heeled hang their hats.

With Cameron busy directing the Avatar sequels, he handed the reins to veteran genre director Rodriguez, remaining with the project as a producer and mentor for Rodriguez. Rodriguez’ strengths lie in action sequences, making him a wise choice. Cameron, perhaps the best director of special effects extravaganzas in history, definitely had a hand in the vision here. There was some controversy regarding the eyes of the Alita character, which are CGI with the oversize that is typical of Japanese manga. Some found the digital effect distracting and creepy, while others found it to be a nice touch regarding the source material. You pretty much get used to it during the course of the film, so I found it to be a non-issue. In any case, the special effects are nonetheless spectacular, even overwhelming. There is definite vision when it comes to the visuals. The motorball sequences, a kind of cross between roller derby and jai alai (and not unlike the sci-fi staple of Rollerball), are easily the best in the film.

But this is where movie theaters are truly missed; without the complete immersion of 3D with Dolby sound, the movie loses something. It simply isn’t as impactful on the home screen. That makes the run time, close to two hours, a little more wearing. And while non-manga fans may be able to get into the film, it really helps to have at least a general knowledge of the artform and non-fans may find themselves turned off by it – and more knowledgeable fans may nit-pick the details.

This is definite eye candy and if you’re missing the summer blockbusters this year, it does make a decent substitution, but at the same time it might make you long for the theatrical experience as well.

REASONS TO SEE: Great visual effects, although they tend to get overwhelming after a while. The motorball sequences are like cinematic crack.
REASONS TO AVOID: A little bit too long. May not appeal to non-manga fans.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of sci-fi action violence and some brief profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Waltz was recommended to Rodriguez by Quentin Tarantino, a close friend who worked with Rodriguez on the Grindhouse project.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AMC On Demand, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, HBO Max, HBO Now, Microsoft, Movies Anywhere, Redbox, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/13/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 62% positive reviews, Metacritic: 53/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Ghost in the Shell
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Guest of Honour

Justice League


Could this be Ben Affleck’s last appearance as Batman?

(2017) Superhero (Warner Brothers) Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, Connie Nielsen, J.K. Simmons, Ciarán Hinds, Amber Heard, Joe Morton, Billy Crudup, Lisa Loven Kongsli, Ingvar Sigurdsson, David Thewlis, Marc McClure, Sergi Constance, Julian Lewis Jones, Salóme Gunnarsdóttir. Directed by Zach Snyder

 

With the critical and commercial success of Wonder Woman earlier this year, expectations were high that the DC Extended Universe – the comic book publisher’s cinematic arm and their version of the Marvel Cinematic Universe – was at last ready to turn around after movies that were disappointing to both fans of the comics and accountants at Warner Brothers alike. That optimism proved to be unfounded as the film, though a hit at the box office was not as successful as the studio execs hoped and after another drubbing from fans and critics alike, the DCEU would eventually undergo massive restructuring. The question is was the movie really that bad?

Well, yes and no. The plot is fairly simple – a cosmic baddy known as Steppenwolf (Hinds in full motion capture splendor) is after three McGuffins called Mother Boxes secreted in various places on Earth. Batman (Affleck), ever the vigilant detective, divines that the Earth is about to come under attack but Wonder Woman (Gadot) is aware that the attack is already under way. With Superman (Cavill) out of the picture, Batman realizes they’ll need a team of superheroes to battle the nearly omnipotent Steppenwolf. He gathers the three others he’s aware of; Aquaman (Momoa) who has dominion over the ocean and those who dwell within it, Cyborg (Fisher) who is learning to adjust to his mostly machine body, and the Flash (Miller), a teen speedster very much unlike the CW version. While the latter is eager to join, the first two are reluctant until they are convinced that they are sorely needed. Massive battle sequences full of mind-numbing CGI follow.

I have to say I found the film entertaining for the most part. Momoa and Fisher make excellent heroes and in their first appearances in anything other than a brief cameo show that they are fully capable of heading up their own films – Momoa’s Aquaman is actually next on the DCEU schedule in December. Gadot and Affleck have proven themselves to be strong screen presences and both know what to do with their material and do it well. The one exception was Miller as The Flash; Snyder and his writers inexplicably went the annoying wisecracking teen route with the character which has already been tried with Quicksilver in the X-Men movies; it worked far better there. Miller is actually a really good young actor but he was sabotaged by the character who is just a jarring note that doesn’t fit in well with the rest of the team.

Snyder has a habit of using a lot of kinetic camera movement and that’s okay but given the massive amount of CGI being used in the movie the effect becomes mind-numbing and overwhelming. It’s visual overload and not in a good way. I would have preferred a little less CGI and a lot more character development but Snyder hasn’t shown the latter to be one of his strengths in any movie that he’s undertaken to date.

For me, the biggest problem with Justice League is Steppenwolf. Not so much in Hinds’ performance capture or his voice work but simply the character as written has absolutely no personality whatsoever and he just felt like a cookie cutter villain who is all like “Oh yes, I want to destroy the world because..” *yawn*

Even with all that going against that I still think that this movie gives some hope that the DCEU can turn things around. As I said there’s been a massive shake-up at the top with a new executive overseeing the franchise – Walter Hamada from New Line who helped build The Conjuring into a multi-film universe that has been as successful in every sense of the word as the DCEU has not been. Although the jury is out on whether Affleck will remain as the Batman for any further films (smart money is that he won’t), Gadot is a proven commodity and it appears both Momoa and Fisher have the ability to take a franchise film and run with it. With the Shazam movie on the horizon as well as a sequel to Wonder Woman there is still something to look forward to in the DCEU. I’m not sure they’re ready to equal Marvel’s cinematic success but there’s no reason to assume that they can’t get there.

REASONS TO GO: The film was reasonably entertaining. Momoa and Fisher acquitted themselves well. Affleck and Gadot continue to impress in their roles. There is still hope that the DCEU can turn itself around.
REASONS TO STAY: Miller’s Flash is way too annoying. The camera is too kinetic and the screen too filled with CGI, making everything look overwhelming and busy. Steppenwolf had zero personality which is a massive problem for your lead villain.
FAMILY VALUES: The film is loaded with action and violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Snyder’s daughter passed away during shooting; at first he and his wife (a producer on the film) tried to stay on as a way to work through their grief but after two months both decided to step down to spend time with their family. Joss Whedon stepped in and completed post-production as well as overseeing some reshoots
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/19/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 40% positive reviews. Metacritic: 45/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Avengers: Age of Ultron
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Kangaroo: A Love/Hate Story

Tekken


In the future, there won't be enough fabric left for shirts.

In the future, there won’t be enough fabric left for shirts.

(2010) Martial Arts (Anchor Bay) Jon Foo, Kelly Overton, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Ian Anthony Dale, Cung Lee, Darren Dewitt Henson, Luke Goss, Mircea Monroe, Tamlyn Tomita, Candice Hillebrand, Marian Zapico, Gary Daniels, John Pyper-Ferguson, Roger Huerta, Lateef Crowder, Monica Mal. Directed by Dwight H. Little

When Arcade Games ruled the earth back in the 80s, there was (and continues to be) a subgenre known as the fighting game. Some of these, including Double Dragon and Mortal Kombat lived to become film adaptations and it took almost 20 years but now so does Tekken. That’s not necessarily a good thing.

Jin (Foo) is a young fatherless man living in 2039. World War III has decimated the population of the planet and rendered a good portion of it uninhabited. Corporations rules the world now and have divided the planet amongst themselves (which gives corporations more credit for co–operation than they probably deserve). North America is ruled by the Tekken Corporation, which in turn is ruled by Heihachi Mishima (Tagawa).

When Jin’s mother and martial arts mentor Jun (Tomita) is killed during a crackdown by Tekken’s security forces, known as the Jackhammers, Jin – who as a contraband runner was closer to the insurgents than Jun ever was – discovers in the wreckage of his home a badge identifying his mother as a fighter in the Iron Fist tournament which promises riches and fame for life for the winner. Intrigued, Jin decides to enter.

He finds the Tournament to be a mess of intrigue. Heihachi’s son Kazuya (Dale) who is also his right hand man, is plotting to take over the company from his son and is using the highly popular tournament to do it. Jin finds an ally in Christie Monteiro (Overton) and a mentor in Steve Fox (Goss), a former tournament champion who sponsors new fighters.

He’ll be going up against fighters like Miguel Rojo (Huerta) and Bryan Fury (Daniels) as well as other mainstays of the game. The rules of the game however are changing and growing more deadly. With the stakes higher than they’ve ever been can Jin defeat the powerful forces aligned against him and emerge a fighting champion?

This is a very basic outline of the plot which goes into a lot more detail which really is unfortunate. The game itself as I remember it – I don’t think I’ve played a version of it since the 90s – was very simple and straightforward. Quite frankly I’m not sure that fans of the game are looking for a plot that’s anywhere as near as complicated as this.

What they’re looking for are the fights and those are done pretty well. The filmmakers even incorporated some of the moves from the game which was much appreciated by this ex-player. The style is definitely very similar to the look of the game, although obviously adjusted for the big screen.

There is a pretty goodly amount of CGI but quite a bit of it is surprisingly subpar. At times the footage looks like a 15-20 year old computer game. Considering the size of the budget, it’s incomprehensible why the effects looked so cheesy. If I were the filmmakers, I’d have been suing somebody.

The acting is passable which is about what you’d expect in a videogame adaptation but even for that notoriously underachieving subgenre of movies, this is pretty awful. Why is it that when Hollywood takes a videogame and makes a movie out of it they feel it necessary to dumb it down to the lowest common denominator, or give it little or no support in terms of getting good scripts, good effects and so on. No wonder the makers of such obviously cinematic games as Halo and World of Warcraft have given the thumbs down to letting Hollywood have their hands on the properties they’ve worked so hard and spent so much time and money to develop properly. It shows little or no respect for the videogame audience which is kind of bizarre considering that gamers go to a lot of movies themselves.

WHY RENT THIS: Some nifty fight sequences. Cast gives a game effort.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Really subpar CGI. A mess of a plot.

FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of violence and brutality with a side order of sexuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Most of the Iron Fist Tournament fights were staged at the Hirsch Memorial Coliseum at the Louisiana State Fairgrounds in Shreveport, Louisiana.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There’s an interesting Canadian television documentary on  stuntmen which was largely shot on the set of this film.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $967,369 on a $30M production budget; this was a box office catastrophe.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Mortal Kombat

FINAL RATING: 4/10

NEXT: Lovely, Still