Alita: Battle Angel

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

Alita: Battle Angel
dir Robert Rodriguez
scr James Cameron, Laeta Kalogridis
prd James Cameron, Jon Landau
with Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Keean Johnson, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Ed Skrein, Jackie Earle Haley, Jorge Lendeborg Jr, Lana Condor, Eiza Gonzalez, Michelle Rodriguez, James Cameron
release UK 6.Feb.19,
US 14.Feb.19
19/US Fox 2h02

waltz connelly ali

Alita: Battle Angel
Exploding with action and spectacular effects work, this epic sci-fi thriller holds the interest with both sheer energy and some thematic depth. Although it never gets that deep. This movie is crafted like a massive videogame filtered through young-adult storytelling, veering between violent machismo and weepy sentimentality. And there's plenty of fun along the way.
It's 2563, three centuries after an apocalyptic war, with survivors living beneath the last floating metropolis. In the scrapheap, Dr Ido (Waltz) finds the core of a young female and implants her into a body he built for his dying daughter, calling her Alita (Salazar). She can't remember who she was, but is adept at playing motorball with the dishy Hugo (Johnson) as well as taking on killers in the street. Meanwhile, Ido's ex Chiren (Connelly) is working with Vector (Ali) to develop the perfect motorball cyborg, seeing Alita as a threat to their plans.
The on-screen imagery is relentlessly busy, with desperate humans scuttling around trying to survive (almost all of them have robotic limbs for some reason) while militarised police robots and hunter-killers brutally enforce the law. Alita is soon chased by both a vicious hunter (Skrein) and a hulking henchman (Haley), cyborgs like her but not quite as adept in a fight. She quickly learns that she's compatible with ancient enemy tech, and that there's a villainous overseer (Cameron!) pulling the strings. And she plays rather a lot of motorball.

Salazar has been digitally altered in the role, with bizarrely big eyes (no one else has these) that make it tricky for the actress to express Alita's emotions with any subtlety, because everything, including her tears, looks digital. This eliminates real complexity from the role, which needs a stronger sense of female empowerment as she takes on the hyper-masculine status quo. Also sidelining this is the way she goes so doe-eyed whenever she's around the Johnson's blandly hunky Hugo. Acting wise, Waltz, Connelly and Ali skilfully inject some dramatic oomph into the movie.

Otherwise, everything is bright and in motion. The street motorball sequence is good fun, but when it moves into the arena it becomes Transformers-meets-Rollerball animation with robots bashing each other. But then, much of this film is actually a cartoon, albeit a strikingly crafted one. It looks awesome on an Imax screen (although the 3D is, as usual, distracting), and Cameron and Rodriguez have constructed the world so thoroughly that it's hardly surprising when they reveal at the end that they're already planning a franchise.

cert 12 themes, violence, language 31.Jan.19

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© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall