Alita Battle Angel - Like A Damaged Cyborg, This Movie Half-Rocks
Dir: Robert Rodriguez
Starring Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Mahershala Ali, Jennifer Connelly, Ed Skrein, Jackie Earle Haley, Keean Johnson
Alita Battle Angel owes more than a small debt to 1975’s Rollerball. From its dystopian view of the future to – very specifically – it’s society unifying game, here named “Motorball.” Which is all a bit odd given that this is for all intents and purposes (and in spite of its Manga background) an exercise to see if a big budget science fiction film that is not a part of a franchise, or a sequel or has a name superhero in it can find an audience in the current cinematic climate. So, the one thing it needs is to be is original, right? And yet so much of this – as stylish as it is – appears familiar. Overly familiar, even. We can see it losing a ton of money – which doesn’t mean it’s not entertaining.
Having championed it for many years (years in which its material may well have gone out of date – even if the central Rollerball conceit does date way back to the mid-‘70s) Jim Cameron handed over the directing reigns to Robert Rodrigues, a man who hasn’t made a good movie in a good few years. Yet anyone that has seen his Mariachis, his first Sin City, and his first Spy Kids (especially) knows what the man is capable of. Here, he impresses greatly with his world building. If nothing else, the world of this Battle Angel, set five hundred and more years in the future, is a genuine beautiful piece of physical design married with state of the art visual fx.
As Alita herself, Salazar is distinctly compelling, although her big-eyed Manga-tized largely CG face never quite escapes its uncanny valley-ness. She is a cyborg, found on a scrap heap by father figure Waltz, who lovingly brings her back to “life” and unleashes her on a world full of killer tech creeps, extreme class divisions and a potential love interest. Soon she discovers her powers as a Martian-led ultimate warrior/killing machine, and the film feels free to leap from one inflated set piece to another, something that Rodrigues as ever displays a flair for.
Much of the action is impressive and the fx are certainly top-rate, and the anime sensibility is suitably brought to life, even if the film’s plot is prone to exposition, contrivance and, for once, somewhat wastes man of the moment Mahershala Ali.
It all adds up to something that is fun and entertaining…but rarely much more than that. Ultimately, just a touch too derivative, when it wants to be up to the minute original. It certainly doesn’t look like the film needed to reinvent contemporary moribund blockbuster cinema. Just a bit more of the same.