Director James Cameron spent the better part of 20 years trying to hit us with Alita: Battle Angel, his big-screen version of Yukito Kishiro’s action-heavy, post-apocalyptic science-fiction cult manga Gunnm. It would be hard to fault Cameron for his lack of commitment. After all, the obsessive, exacting moviemaker wrote a massive screenplay based on Kishiro’s first two installments, along with 600 pages of notes for sequels.
The episodic, exposition-heavy action, as scripted by Cameron and Laeta Kalogridis (Shutter Island, Altered Carbon) is set in 2563, 300 years after a worldwide cataclysmic war known as The Fall. In grungy, trash-strewn Iron City, benevolent, Geppetto-like Dr. Ido Dyson (Christoph Waltz doing lovely work) finds the spare head and torso of a cyborg with the still-functioning brain of a teenage young woman. He painstakingly rebuilds his techno-Pinocchio, christens her Alita (after his murdered daughter) but must watch helplessly as it dawns on super-cartoony-eyed Alita (played by Rosa Salazar)—a performance-capture heroine who is surely a refugee from the Valley of the Uncanny Dolls—that she was originally built to attack and unleash mayhem. Bourne Identity meets Ghost in the Shell, anyone?
Are you getting all this? Because there are more key figures the script requires Alita to meet, most of whom are not only maddeningly vague but also act as information dumps that we’re somehow expected to figure out, let alone care about. There’s deeply weird robotics ace and Ido’s ex-wife (Jennifer Connelly); two dastardly, intriguing "Hunter/Warriors" called Grewishka (Jackie Earle Haley) and Zapan (Ed Skrein); and deadly bland street kid and romantic figure Hugo (Keean Johnson).
What’s the point of blowing somewhere around $200 million on boldly innovative sound and vision when it is built upon a script that just thuds along?
But, come on—what’s the point of blowing somewhere around $200 million on boldly innovative sound and vision when it is built upon a script that just thuds along, fails to deliver on some potentially promising plot turns and character setups, and drags it all down? Had Cameron himself made Alita: Battle Angel back in the 1990s, maybe we might all sit up and take notice. In 2019, it feels like a scrap heap of old spare parts.
Alita: Battle Angel
- Imagination and eye-catching visuals abound—although they ought to, given the film's equally stunning budget
- The film never lives up to its promise, and it might make you wonder why it exists