Alita: Battle Angel (2019)
Near the culmination of the science fiction thriller, “Alita: Battle Angel,” the heroine, Alita (Rose Salazar) bursts into the cavernous headquarters of the ruthless cyborg parts dealer Vector (Mahershala Ali). The facility is full of massive mechanized security robots. Alita furiously dispatches them one by one, using her technologically enhanced sword and then fires a futuristic looking Gatling gun. This is one of the more inventive and heart-pumping images in the movie, which is visually arresting but a tonal mess. Borrowing liberally from Robocop, Rollerball, Pinocchio and Elysium, Alita: Battle Angel erratically fuses together genres as diverse as sports, romance, body horror, young adult and adventure.
Alita: Battle Angel is a live-action adaptation of a Japanese manga. Directed by Robert Rodriguez (Desperado) and produced by James Cameron (Terminator), Alita: Battle Angel is set 500 years into the future in a place called Iron City. The city is a dangerous, overcrowded, multicultural, multilingual environment. Iron City is filled with cyborgs, people who have replaced their arms, legs and bodies with steel and metal limbs. Cyborg faces are often the only remaining human element. With no police or military around, justice is delivered by the Hunter-Warriors, who are a cross between mercenaries and bounty hunters. The main source of entertainment in Iron City is Motorball, an ultra-violent version of Rollerball. Above Iron City, a mysterious floating city called Zolum, dumps used metal and other miscellaneous items onto a vast scrapyard below.
At the scrapyard, Dr. Dyson Ido (Christopher Waltz), a doctor who specializes in the repair of artificial limbs, uncovers the head of a cyborg girl. Taking her back to his laboratory, he fixes her up and gives her a new synthetic body. Calling her ‘Alita’, Ido treats her like his own daughter, giving her fatherly advice and a safe room to live in. Alita gradually finds emotional connections to other people. She quickly branches out on her own to learn more about her mysterious past and to unlock the full use of her incredible fighting skills and the immense power contained within her.
Alita (Rose Salazar) is a likable and sympathetic heroine, and despite the CGI constraints, gives a good performance as the brave young cyborg. Unfortunately the rest of the cast is forgettable, even the usually competent Mahershala Ali does not make an impact as bad guy Vector. Edward Norton and Michelle Rodriguez show up in almost cameo roles in the movie as well.
The visual effects in the film, particularly Alita herself, are photo-realistic and stunning. Some of the best effects appear during an underwater sequence, where Alita swims to a half sunken military spaceship. Her hair moves naturally underwater and when emerging from the water, the damp clothing on her body is very realistic looking. These visuals are a kind of sneak peek of the types of effects that Avatar 2 may feature. The VFX are especially potent during the cyborg on cyborg fighting. The fights are surprisingly brutal. Cyborgs are ripped to shreds, cut in half, have their faces cut off or are simply sliced apart.
With a clearer narrative focus and some judicious editing, Alita: Battle Angel could have been a more compelling and enthralling experience. Nonetheless, the visuals alone should be diverting enough for discerning theater goers and science fiction aficionados.