Alita: Battle Angel proves to be mostly thrilling and impressive spectacle despite having a plot that often feels murky and disjointed.
James Cameron co-wrote and co-produced and Robert Rodriguez directed this adaptation of the iconic manga series and while both filmmakers bring their usual aesthetics to the table, they’re able to craft a film that sometimes feels partly derivative and partly unique.
The movie is set in the year 2563 after a fatal event called “The Fall” takes place, leaving most of Earth decimated. In a barren metropolis known as Iron City, people do what they can to survive and hope to make it to a glorious utopia in the sky called Zalem.
Christoph Waltz plays Dr. Dyson Ido, a robotic scientist who discovers remnants of a cyborg and resurrects her Frankenstein-style and calls her Alita (Rosa Salazar).
Ido tries to shelter from the evils of this bleak society, but that all goes out the window when she meets and falls in love with a boy named Hugo (Keean Johnson). It’s standard movie romance, but they do display a sweet chemistry.
Now onto the villians: Jennifer Connelly is Waltz’s ex-wife who left after their daughter died. Her name was also Alita and she spends most of her time working alongside a greedy entrepreneur (Mahershala Ali of Green Book).
Ali is part of a dangerous sport known as Motorball in which robots race around a sort of roller derby to the death. Just think of the Transformers playing a game of futuristic Quidditch.
Alita believes she can raise enough money by winning this brutal sport and taking her and Hugo to Zalem.
Salazar gives a winning performance and she is surrounded by a winning supporting cast including Waltz, Connelly, and Ali.
The problem with its script is that it relies on a story that is occasionally silly and stumbles on bringing the right kind of emotionality. We want to feel something for some of these characters, but the screenplay puts its other ambitions on autopilot.
However, there are plenty of visual wonders and astonishing special effects to behold at every corner. Cameron and Rodriguez have stimulating imaginations on display and if you’re going to check it out, IMAX is the only format.
Its effects are groundbreaking, but its story like its main character is more often than not artificial.
In terms of sheer visual audacity, it does its job very effectively.
(Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language.)