This weekend at the movies, we’ve got an amnesiac android (Alita: Battle Angel, starring Rosa Salazar and Christoph Waltz), a meta rom-com (Isn’t It Romantic, starring Rebel Wilson and Liam Hemsworth), and a sequel we’ve seen before… or have we (Happy Death Day 2U, starring Jessica Rothe and Israel Broussard)? What are the critics saying?
The Japanese cyberpunk manga Battle Angel Alita began publication back in 1990, and when James Cameron got wind of it (via Guillermo del Toro, no less), he became instantly fascinated by it and began development on it as a passion project. Ultimately, after years of delays, Cameron found himself occupied by Avatar and its sequels, so he handed the reins over to Robert Rodriguez. The film centers on a scientist (Christoph Waltz) who discovers a deactivated cyborg (played in motion-capture by Rosa Salazar) in a junkyard and gives her a new body, only to realize her previous function was much more lethal. Alita: Battle Angel has impressed critics with its groundbreaking, immersive special effects — par for the course with any film produced by James Cameron — but it takes some of its narrative cues from better films that have come before. It’s an eye-popping theater experience, to be sure, and if that’s what you’re looking for, Alita delivers enough entertainment value to keep you in your seat. Just don’t expect to be blown away — or even particularly engaged — by its story.
The danger in making a film that aims to be a genre takedown is that it can easily fall prey to the same cliches it’s attempting to ridicule, resulting in a final product that feels disingenuous and sometimes phony. In other words, it’s an incredibly risky proposition, and according to the reviews, this week’s Isn’t It Romantic just manages to pull it off, mostly thanks to its star, Rebel Wilson. The story follows a cynical architect who wakes up from a mugging encounter to discover that she has become the star of her own romantic comedy. Critics say the meta narrative, while not entirely fresh, still offers a few surprises and clever gags, and Wilson lights up the screen as the unwilling protagonist of her own love story. It doesn’t have much of a story outside of its initial high-concept premise, and it’s perhaps not as smart as it thinks it is, but you could definitely do worse for a Valentine’s date movie.
In 2017, Universal and Blumhouse mixed the trappings of a classic slasher film with the déjà vu antics of Groundhog Day and achieved surprisingly effective results, so this week we get a return trip through the time loop with a slightly different twist. Jessica Rothe reprises her role as college student Tree Gelbman once again finds herself reliving the same day over and over again. Only thing is, this time around, the person responsible for her death in the first film is also murdered here, which means there’s a new killer on the loose. Critics say Happy Death Day 2U isn’t quite as much fun as the original — as the Arizona Republic’s Bill Goodykoontz writes, “a movie can only be a pleasant surprise once” — and it gets a little bogged down in trying to explain why what’s happening is happening, but it still packs some bloody thrills and hearty chuckles for the horror-comedy aficionados among us.
DC Universe finds breakout material in this iteration of Doom Patrol thanks to a fully committed cast and the writing’s faith in weirdness.
The Umbrella Academy unfurls an imaginative yarn with furtive emotion and an exceptionally compelling ensemble, but the series’ dour sensibility often clashes with its splashy genre trappings.
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