Review of “Alita: Battle Angel”

In the 26th Century, the world is still recovering from a war 300 years earlier called The Fall. The rich and powerful live in the floating city of Zalem, the last sky city left from The Fall. Under Zalem is Iron City where life is hard, and people do whatever is necessary to survive. One of the few good people living in Iron City is Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz), a physician that takes care of the many citizens with artificial limbs. Zalem’s trash is ejected from the bottom of the floating city and collects in a massive dump in Iron City Dr. Ido is searching the dump to scavenge spare parts for his patients when he finds the head, shoulders and part of the chest of a female cyborg. Dr. Ido takes her to his office and attaches her head to a cybernetic body he already had on hand. When the cyborg comes back on line, she has no memory of her past. Dr. Ido calls her Alita (Rosa Salazar). While showing her around his neighborhood in Iron City, Alita meets Hugo (Keean Johnson), a scavenger that finds parts for Dr. Ido. Alita and Hugo fall for each other and plan to meet the next day. As Alita is on her way to meet Hugo, she is stopped by Chiren (Jennifer Connelly) who looks closely at Alita’s hand. Chiren is Dr. Ido’s ex-wife. The two divorced after the death of their daughter, also named Alita. The body cyborg Alita is using was built for Ido and Chiren’s daughter who was confined to a wheelchair, but she died before she could be transferred to her new body. There’s a violent sport called Motorball where the participants replace parts of their human bodies with cybernetic parts to improve their game play. Chiren works for Vector (Mahershala Ali), an entrepreneur with Motorball teams who gambles on the outcome that he also controls. Roaming the streets of Iron City are part cybernetic bounty hunters. One of the most successful is Zapan (Ed Skrein), a bounty hunter who is almost entirely machine. Alita is seeing flashes of memory whenever she’s involved in a violent conflict. She sees herself fighting a battle on the moon along side another female cyborg named Gleda (Michelle Rodriguez). As Alita becomes more known in Iron City, she becomes the target of people wanting her technology as it is something that hasn’t been seen since The Fall. The most dangerous person hunting her is Grewishka (Jackie Earle Haley), a massive cyborg that doesn’t care who is hurt when he hunts. All the while, there’s an unseen master that is directing everything from Zalem.

Does the above plot synopsis of “Alita: Battle Angel” sound confusing? It’s pretty easy to follow as you’re watching, but there’s far too much going on in this adaption of the Japanese manga called “Gunnm” and the animated movie “Battle Angel.” Writers Laeta Kalogridis and James Cameron (yes, THAT James Cameron, who is also a producer) apparently wanted to stick in every subplot and side quest from the source material, overwhelming the audience and the plot, and making a scattershot film without a satisfying ending. It looks great, the action scenes are frequently impressive and the performance of Rosa Salazar is affecting, however “Alita: Battle Angel” is nothing more than a two-hour preview for “Alita: Battle Angel 2.”

As the movie was coming to an end, I got angry. I’ve been angry at characters and their actions, but few movies are able to create that feeling in me just for existing. “Alita: Battle Angel” is a rare exception as it caused me to question if I wanted to ask for my money back. Director Robert Rodriguez has crafted half a good movie out of a script containing enough material for at least three films and yet, there’s no ending. The movie concludes, but what happens is anti-climactic. As the credits begin to roll, it is clear the film is nothing but a long trailer for movies yet to come. It is infuriating that $170-million was spent to create a coming attraction for a film that may never start production as this entry probably won’t break even.

There’s something especially cynical about a movie, all of which are released with the hope and expectation that they’ll make money, that appears to only be a cursory introduction to characters so the audience will know them in the next movie when something will actually happen. Lots of things happen in “Alita: Battle Angel,” but none of them amount to anything by the end of the film. The audience is left with the knowledge that there’s more to come and, if we see it at all, it is several years from coming out. It’s like being promised a Christmas present, then that gets moved to Valentine’s Day, then your birthday and so on, until you just don’t care anymore.

The problem is I do care. I want to see a good story with these characters in this world. The world of manga and anime is one where great battles and epic stories are promised, and started, but we rarely get a real, definite conclusion. One need only watch an episode of any of the Dragonball series on Adult Swim to see what I’m talking about. Perhaps our patience will eventually be rewarded with a final showdown between Alita and the shadowy overseer that’s guiding everything from Zalem, but I don’t plan on holding my breath for a satisfying conclusion.

Despite my disappointment in “Alita: Battle Angel,” there are some nice elements in the film. First, Rosa Salazar is able to deliver a moving and believable performance via the facial motion-capture dots and cameras. Salazar squeezes empathy for Alita out of nearly every scene. Her caring for Dr. Ido and Hugo, and anyone who finds trouble on the streets of Iron City, including a stray dog, shines through the digital manipulation of her face to create the oversized eyes of Alita. The effects used to make her unique face don’t stick out like a sore thumb and, after a few minutes, you don’t notice much difference. Some of the action takes on the quality of a cut scene between segments of a video game, but those moments are brief and scattered. Some of the action is breathtaking and the violence is jarring as cyborgs are ripped apart, but the human head is still alive. That happens more than once in the film and it gets a little creepy on occasion.

“Alita: Battle Angel” is PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence, action and some language. There are numerous battle scenes, mostly involving cyborgs, and mechanical limbs go flying. Humans get hurt and killed as well. There isn’t much blood and no gore. Foul language is mild, but there is an “F-bomb.”

“Alita: Battle Angel” has some good points and, if it had a better ending, it might have gotten a higher rating from me. Since the likelihood of a sequel is fairly low, I guess we’ll have to make due with this version of the manga and anime. It’s too bad, as director Robert Rodriguez and writer/producer James Cameron have produced some amazing cinema over the last 30 years. Perhaps they have too many projects on their plates to provide a complete story and a satisfying ending. What we have here is most of a movie and a fair one at that, but it feels incomplete and more than a little cynical.

“Alita: Battle Angel” gets two stars out of five.

Opening this week are two new films with family at their cores. I’ll see and review one of the following:

Fighting with My Family—

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World—

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Review of “Deadpool”

Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) is a former Special Forces soldier who is now a mercenary for hire. If you have a problem and aren’t real concerned with things like laws and ethics, Wade is the man that can solve your problem. While hanging out at a bar frequented by more of his kind and run by his friend Weasel (T.J. Miller) he meets Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), an escort who is as tough and foul-mouthed as Wade. They quickly begin a relationship that seems destined for marriage; however, one night Wade passes out. At the doctor the next day, he and Vanessa find out he has terminal cancer. Vanessa is hopeful there is a treatment that might save him but Wade is certain he will die and doesn’t want to put her through the trauma of watching his decline. At the bar, Wade is approached by a recruiter (Jed Rees) who claims he can cure his cancer. Initially skeptical, Wade packs up in the middle of the night and leaves for the program without telling Vanessa. There he is strapped to a gurney and rolled through a chamber of horrors. A man in a lab coat calling himself Ajax (Ed Skrein) tells Wade they will inject him with various chemicals to activate any mutant genes in his DNA. He will then be subjected to various physical tortures to activate the mutation. If he survives the treatment and his mutation activates, he will likely be cured of his cancer but will then be a slave to the project and never go home. Locked in an airtight chamber, Wade is deprived of oxygen. This activates his mutation, giving him quick healing power but scarring all the skin on his body. Wade manages to escape the chamber and fights Ajax, whose real name is Francis Freeman, who has himself gone through the treatment and does not feel pain and possesses enhanced strength. Wade is left for dead but is actually on a path of revenge. He is looking for Francis with the mission of getting him to fix his skin and he doesn’t care who he has to kill to find him. Weasel suggests a mask to cover his face while Wade comes up with a catchy name for his merc with the mouth: Deadpool.

“Deadpool” is not your usual superhero movie. Most noticeably, it’s rated R and deservedly so. The violence, language and nudity in the film are unlike anything ever seen before in this genre. The character of Deadpool is also unlike your everyday superhero. He is willing, almost eager, to kill those that fight against him. He seems to enjoy inflicting pain his enemies. Even the opening credits of the film take potshots at superhero movies. This isn’t a film for the easily offended… and I think the format could use more like “Deadpool.”

The movie moves at a brisk pace with the story told in a combination of flashbacks and present time. While the origin story is a bit slow at times the rest of the film more than makes up for it with snappy action sequences, funny lines and so many in-jokes that you probably need to see the movie more than once to catch them all. It is certainly a feast for those wanting to see the character get a bit of redemption after it was so poorly handled in “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”
(which also gets skewered in the film). With its tongue firmly planted in its cheek, “Deadpool” is well aware everything we are seeing is utter ridiculous and even characters that are treated seriously are played as superhero/villain stereotypes making them easy targets for satire.

Ryan Reynolds is a perfect choice for the Merc with the Mouth. Reynolds has the smartass delivery that makes this character pop. Whether he’s making goofy sweet talk to Vanessa, bro bud talk with Weasel or tough talking Francis, Reynolds gives Wade Wilson/Deadpool the kind of nimble comedic repartee necessary for the character not to come off as trying too hard. Busting balls is second nature to the character and I believe to Reynolds as well.

Morena Baccarin is a perfect mix of sexy and tough, playing Vanessa as a woman who doesn’t need a man to protect her or complete her. In her relationship with Wade, Vanessa gives as good as she gets (sometimes literally) and is about as equal a partner as has ever been seen in a superhero movie; however, the script turns Vanessa into a hovering mother when Wade receives his diagnosis. For some reason, screenwriters Rhett Rees and Paul Wernick fall back on tried and true sexual stereotypes. Vanessa originally seems like the kind of woman who wouldn’t allow her partner to wallow in self-pity the way Wade does. She would demand Wade fight. Sadly, Rees and Wernick turn this strong, modern woman into a 1950’s housewife. Tonally it doesn’t fit with the rest of the movie.

That could also be said of the standard issue finale. I won’t give anything away but if you’ve seen one superhero film you won’t be surprised about how “Deadpool” ends. While the character does throw in a small twist it isn’t one that isn’t obviously coming from the beginning of the movie. Considering whom Vanessa is in the comics, they could have set up a mind-blowing sequel by showing us her abilities and what kind of heartache was in store for Deadpool. Perhaps that’s on the drawing board for a future film but considering everything else “Deadpool” did to separate itself from most other genre movies, a last-page-of-the-comic twist would have fanned the flames of viewers’ interest even more than the snarky post-credits scenes that may or may not tell us what’s going on in the sequel.

“Deadpool” is rated R for language throughout, graphic nudity, sexual content and strong violence. There are beheadings, dismemberments, stabbings and gory gunshot wounds galore. There is both male and female nudity and an extended sexual montage that may change the way you look at mashed potatoes forever. Foul language is common but not overwhelming.

Opening to a box office total well over projections and a fair amount of critical love, 20th Century Fox basically had no choice but to greenlight a sequel. While this film is certainly far different from any other Marvel superhero movie we’ve had since the premiere of “Iron Man” in 2008 and that uniqueness likely encouraged possibly comic-book-film-fatigued fans to turn out, “Deadpool” still couldn’t escape the predictable third act heroics of a character that boasts about how he is not a hero. Perhaps the makers of the next film will have the courage to fight studio pressure to turn the Merc with the Mouth into just another spandex-wearing goody-two-shoe. That’s the way Wade Wilson would want it.

“Deadpool” gets four stars out of five.

A film of bravery, a film of faith and a film of dark magic open this week. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:



The Witch—

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Review of “The Transporter Refueled”

Frank Martin (Ed Skrein) is a package delivery man. He delivers the kinds of packages that you don’t want sent via Fed Ex or UPS. He doesn’t want to know the name of his client, he doesn’t want to know what he’s delivering and the deal isn’t allowed to change once it’s agreed upon or Frank walks away. He’s a skilled and daring driver behind the wheel of his tricked out Audi S8 and he’s also handy with his fists in the event there is trouble along his delivery route. Frank’s father, Frank Sr. (Ray Stevenson), is recently retired from his secret government job and visits his son in the South of France. Frank gets a call from a potential client about a job and agrees to meet her the next day. There he meets Anna (Loan Chabanol) who hires him to deliver two packages he’s to pick up at 5 pm in front of a bank. When he arrives, he discovers the two packages are two friends of Anna’s and all three are dressed in identical black dresses and blond wigs. Frank dislikes the way this job is going and tells them all to get out but he’s shown a smart phone with live video of his father chained up in a warehouse. Anna gives him no choice but to take them where they want to go. He must also outrun a squad of police cars and motorcycles as his car parked in front of the bank with three identical looking women has attracted the authorities’ attention. Successfully evading the police and switching cars, Frank takes the women to the warehouse and finds his father unharmed. Frank is told he must help Anna and her friends who are all prostitutes working for Arkady Karasov (Radivoje Bukvic) and his gang of Russian mobsters. Anna wants to destroy Karasov’s organization and free her friends and herself from their lives as high end escorts. To ensure his assistance, Frank Sr. has been given a slow-acting poison. If Frank helps them, Anna will give his father the antidote. Frank has no choice but to join their plot if he wants to save his father.

There isn’t much I can say about “The Transporter Refueled” as it didn’t make much of an impression on me. The movie is technically well done with some very intricate action scenes in tight places that make imaginative use of the environment. There is also some beautiful scenery as much of the film takes place in Monaco. If cars are your thing the Audi S8 driven by the Transporter is a lovely luxury sedan that is tricked out with various high-tech gadgets and effective counter measures. And of course, the film is populated with many beautiful and often scantily clad women. The movie is packed with things that should have grabbed my attention and kept me riveted from beginning to end yet it didn’t. As the story progressed, I felt more and more uncomfortable with the direction of the characters and their choices. “The Transporter Refueled” left me feeling like I needed to take a shower afterward.

While the movie gives its female characters plenty of intelligence and drive to pull off their mission without Frank’s help, they still need him to provide the muscle to make their escape plan a reality. In some sense, Frank is cast in the more stereotypical sexual role as the protector while the women are portrayed as the brains of the operation. The movie slips back into a more conventional male/female dynamic as the story goes along. That dynamic is part of my biggest issue with the movie. At one point, Anna and Frank wind up in bed together. It’s the film’s inappropriate romantic moment and it made my skin crawl. This woman that was sold to her pimp by her mother at the age of 12 and has been subjected to who knows what kind of abuse is now in bed with a man she met 24 hours earlier. This isn’t slut shaming, it is questioning the script and why a scene like that was included when the story makes it clear these women are very intelligent and have lived a life in hell through no fault of their own. It seems unlikely any woman who had lived Anna’s life would quickly fall into bed with a man she is forcing to help her. Perhaps I’m applying my own moral code to the characters in the film but it seems kind of gross to have the character have sex as a way of saying “thank you” to the man she is essential extorting into helping her. Maybe we are to think her life taught her this as the only way of expressing her appreciation for Frank’s help. It still strikes me as borderline abusive and a kind of sexual expression I could have done without. I’m no prude and the scene is very brief but I still left the theatre feeling like I’d seen something particularly filthy.

Otherwise, “The Transporter Refueled” is pretty average and largely inoffensive. The plot seems overly complicated if you give it a moment’s thought. Why these super intelligent call girls don’t just hire someone to kill their Russian pimps using the money they steal from their first incredibly complex and intricate robbery instead of following through with the rest of their equally byzantine plans escapes me (and apparently the writers of the script as well). It also doesn’t make much sense why the minivans and small cars employed by the Monaco police and airport security are able to keep up with Frank’s supercharged car. He should be able to leave them in the dust without creating all the mayhem to evade capture shown in the film. If I was Audi, I’d think twice about giving the filmmakers any more cars for the proposed next two films in this new trilogy.

The playful sniping and apparent rivalry between Frank Sr. and Jr. is a rare high point for the film. Ed Skrein and Ray Stevenson look nothing alike but still have a nice father-and-son chemistry. I hope this may get a bit more screen time in the next film as it is probably the best aspect of the story. I feel certain at some point the elder Martin will be sacrificed to save the younger as a high emotional point to give the Transporter a revenge angle to finish off the main villain. It seems like the most movie cliché thing to do so I’m certain it will happen, probably in the third film.

“The Transporter Refueled” is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, sexual material, some language, a drug reference and thematic elements. There are numerous fights, some including weapons of various types, and one major shootout. There isn’t much blood from any of these fights and no gore. One character is shown being shot in the chest several times and a couple of other characters are shown being shot in the head but again there is very little blood and no gore. We also see the aftermath of a hotel room fire with three charred bodies. The previously mentioned sex scene is brief and shows a woman in her underwear. We also see a suggested threesome with no nudity. A reference is made to a woman dying of a heroin overdose. Foul language is widely scattered.

While fans of the original series of “Transporter” movies may find much to enjoy in this reboot, I found it more of the same with new faces. It also troubled me seeing how sex is such a commodity and those that have been used so violently are portrayed as being willing to trade it for services rendered. Perhaps my opinion of the film is colored by this feeling; however, I don’t think my view of the movie would have been much different if that scene didn’t exist.

“The Transporter Refueled” gets two stars out of five.

This week, a brief visit to the afterlife, a relationship from hell and freaky grandparents are your new cinematic options. I see and review at least one of these films.

90 Minutes in Heaven—

The Perfect Guy—

The Visit—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to