“Alita: Battle Angel” felt like a movie that would never find its way to the big screen. The film was originally announced to be produced by James Cameron more than a decade ago in 2003. In 2016, Robert Rodriguez joined the project, stepping in as the director. The film, adapted from a Japanese manga, had the potential to become a mega-franchise. Yet given the reviews for “Alita” and an opening weekend under $25 million, the movie is heading for a massive loss for Fox.
When a movie has been in development for as long as “Alita,” you probably need to look at the filmmakers responsible. Cameron and Robert Rodriguez helmed this one, and their combined forces seemed like it would help them reach success. However, the worst tendencies of both filmmakers are on display. Cameron co-wrote the film with Laeta Kalogridis and the screenplay is filled to the brim with exposition. Meanwhile, Rodriguez can’t seem to elevate the performances of his actors, despite having a great eye for visuals.
While there are issues abound in “Alita,” the digital effects used to create the world rarely disappoint. The vision brought to the mechanical world gave the effects team the ability to show off. The world they create really shines, as do all the robotics and cyborgs. Perhaps the most exciting scenes in the film occur during the motorball sequences, which allow for top-tier fight sequences and fun character design. Consider that Anita (Rose Salazar) plays a one of several mo-capped characters, and her reliance on visual effects will likely appeal to the branch. Like “Ready Player One” or “Kong: Skull Island,” this film could potentially find its way into the Oscar conversation despite the early release date.
When you see a film like “Alita,” it can be easy to want more from Rodriguez and Cameron. Sadly, the two directors have been missing from the filmmaking world for far too long. While “Alita” has eaten up their past few years, neither has been on particularly prolific. Each directed films, but none of the properties live up to their potential as filmmakers. Which direction should they go for their next project?
For Cameron, the way out will be the “Avatar” films. There are four films in that franchise yet to come, with the first scheduled to release in 2020. This will be Cameron’s first official directorial effort since the last “Avatar” a decade ago. You could count his work on “Toruk: The First Flight,” but it was a combination of directors who worked on the show. Even before that, Cameron films were rare. Between “Titanic” and “Avatar,” Cameron’s biggest films were a pair of documentaries. “Ghosts of the Abyss” took Cameron and Bill Paxton took the wreckage of Titanic. “Aliens of the Deep” also shows off the ocean, capturing creatures in the Mid-Ocean Range.
Getting four “Avatar” films over the next decade does not exactly sound exciting. However, it will literally double Cameron’s narrative output from the past two decades. Cameron already has a legitimate claim as one of the great American filmmakers. Even if we called his career today, “Titanic,” “Avatar,” “Terminator,” “Aliens,” and “True Lies,” puts his name in the ring. With a production credit on “Terminator: Dark Fate” later this year, we’re hoping he can help revive the franchise in a meaningful way. However, the screenplay for “Alita” was not good, and that could be worrisome for his movies moving forward.
On the flip side, Rodriguez has been a busy director. However, it has been a while since he explored an original property. A lot of his work has been on television, with “From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series,” where he directed seven episodes. He released “Spy Kids: All the Time in the World” in 2011, as well as two “Machete” films. He also took on a sequel to “Sin City,” “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” in 2014. The last original film from Rodriguez was “Shorts,” which released in 2009.
For Rodriguez, his work has not been up to the same standard of his career. As one of the young filmmakers to emerge out of Sundance, he was pegged for great things. His “El Mariachi” and “Desperado” films remain cult classics of the 1990s. His work with Quentin Tarantino helped to keep him in the spotlight, but the two have not worked together on a feature in years.
While Rodriguez may not be a household name, he still carries a strong following. Considering how much of “Alita” works because of the visual stylings he puts on screen, he could easily find his way back. Due to the fact that “Alita” was delayed, he actually has another film releasing later this year. It also looks to be his most personal.
“Red 11” will be a fictionalized take on Rodriguez’s efforts to make “El Mariachi” in 1992. To get the film made, Rodriguez sold his body for science. He raised the money and eventually made the Sundance and Toronto Film Festival hit. “Red 11” follows Rodriguez’s 25-year-old script, and was produced for $7000. However, it will take a horror and psychological thriller angle to the story. “Red 11” premieres at SXSW Film Festival in about a month. If it goes well, this could potentially be a return to form for Rodriguez.
Where Cameron and Rodriguez go from here is still up in the air. Cameron seems like the safer bet, but Rodriguez could bounce back in a big way with his back against the wall. While “Alita” does not work as well as many would hope, this might not be the last time we hear about the film in 2019. After all, the special effects are by far the stand out of the film. Don’t sleep on this one as an Oscar contender that finds its way back into the conversation when the guilds have their say a year from now.