WARNING: Spoilers for Alita: Battle Angel ahead.
Alita: Battle Angel doesn't have a proper ending. Sure, the movie fades to black and the credits play, yet there's no real resolution to the primary goal of its main character, with a lot more conflict teased in a sequel that nobody is expecting to ever get made.
Straight up, Alita: Battle Angel is a good movie, surprisingly so given the low quality of its trailers and emerging narrative as a box office flop. Alita herself is a wonder, with Rosa Salazar's mo-cap performance showcasing a careful evolution of naivety (the anime eyes totally work in context too), and the world she inhabits, while overwhelming, is so confidently presented audiences can just go with it. In IMAX 3D, it's a near unparalleled experience, the best-justified use of the tech since 2013's Gravity and most astounding ground-up CGI landscape since Pandora in James Cameron's Avatar. There are many creaks, mainly in the dialogue and Robert Rodriguez's subsequent direction of actors (Keean Johnson as love interest Hugo is particularly wooden early on), but that's easy to get past thanks to the sheer scale of the film and its story.
Said story is about Alita's discovery of her past as she navigates a world of Hunter-Warriors, Motorball and first love. It starts off very well-balanced, but as the movie zips through its 122-minute runtime, something increasingly feels off; just as Alita: Battle Angel begins building to a major showdown, many of its story threads are being tied up, leading to an abrupt, unearned ending.
- This Page: Alita: Battle Angel Is Missing Its Third Act
- Page 2: Why Alita: Battle Angel Doesn't Have An Ending
What Happens In Alita's Ending? The Film Just Stops
Alita: Battle Angel's ending sees a lot of the core plots converge. When Hugo is mortally wounded by Zapan (Ed Skrein), she saves him with the help of Chiren (Jennifer Connelly), allowing Ido (Christoph Waltz) to put Hugo's decapitated head in a new body. Alita then confronts (and kills) both Grewishka (Jackie Earle Haley) and Vector (Mahershala Ali) for the latter's role in corrupting her boyfriend. Hugo struggles to adapt to his new life and decides to climb up the factory tube to Zalem, but is hit by a defense ring and sent falling to his death despite Alita's best efforts.
Through all this has been an emerging threat in the form of Nova, a scientist based in Zalem who's been puppeteering Vector (sometimes literally) and attempting to have Alita killed, sending Grewishka and in turn Zapan after her. Essentially, most of the trials Alita faces in the movie are on his orders; he even sends the defense ring that hits Hugo. Clearly, Nova is the big threat that must be overcome.
Except that's not how the story goes. Following Hugo's death, the movie jumps forward to Alita now a Motorball superstar, well on her way to becoming a champion and being able to travel up to Zalem to confront Nova. After shedding a tear for Hugo, she walks out in front of a packed stadium and holds her sword high, signaling a challenge to Nova (revealed to be Edward Norton). Then... the credits roll.
Alita: Battle Angel Is Not A Complete Story
Plainly, Alita: Battle Angel is missing its third act; the payoff to everything that's come before where she actually gets to confront her ultimate obstacle. From very early on, Nova was established as that threat (to the audience at least), and thus the logical endpoint to the story. In that light, the ending of the movie as released is only the culmination of a second act, seeing the plot pivot into a clear confrontation - Alita states her intent to kill Nova - yet not actually providing any climax.
The result is that Alita has an incomplete arc in Battle Angel. We see her enter this new world wide-eyed (literally and figuratively) wanting to care for those immediately around her, which sees her begin embracing her Berserker past; at first, the core conflict is becoming a Hunter-Warrior, then it shifts to be about her romance with Hugo and their mission to get to Zalem. But the root of the conflict always lies with Nova, and so Alita's ability to control her destiny is tied into him; having her big final showdown with a lackey where she only just discovers Nova's existence is no substitute. There is something to be said about the victory for Alita's coming-of-age story, becoming an independent figure able to hold her sword up to evil, but that's all promise and no action.
Imagine Star Wars ending with the Millennium Falcon's arrival on Yavin IV, at the end of the second act; this can be argued narratively as the resolution of Luke's core mission - save Princess Leia and get the Death Star plans to the Rebellion - but there's still an overbearing threat to be challenged. Alita: Battle Angel pulls pretty much that exact trick, leaving audiences with a moon-sized hole. In contrast, while The Empire Strikes Back ends leaving Han's life and the truth of Luke's parentage in the balance, there's still a sense of completion to the story as established.
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- Alita Battle Angel (2019) release date: Feb 14, 2019