Even blockbuster producing maestro James Cameron cannot bring some quality to the long lasting travesty that is Hollywood adaptations of Asian source material. This saga was meant to have hit its low point with Ghost in the Shell (2017), but Alita: Battle Angel (which shares notable similarities with the former) proves that this ship is still sinking.
Set in the 26th century, Alita — Rosa Salazar, whose performance is cloaked under some heavy-handed CGI — is a cyborg living in a world ravaged by war with Mars. She is recovered from the scrapheap by Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz), who gives her a new body. Alita subsequently discovers she can (1) kick ass and (2) love. She goes on to do both. That’s pretty much it, especially for the opening third which stumbles through scene-setting courtesy of some meager skin deep plotting and badly predictable dialogue.
On first glance the world in which this is happening has been beautifully envisioned, but you cannot help but think you have seen it all before. It is just referencing other science fiction directors (Neill Blomkamp for one) and searching for reassurance in other material, as if Cameron didn’t trust the rest of his team enough to let them off the creative leash. Battle Angel comes off as chronically tried and tested, and you find yourself caring little for what is going on.
Things do pick up for a while either side of the halfway point, and director Robert Rodriguez gets down to business in the only way he knows how — gut-busting punch em’ ups and macho men getting a good hiding. It is in the raw intensity of the fight that Battle Angel recovers a little momentum, with a bar brawl in particular scene proving more than satisfying, yet there is not enough of it.
Furthermore, the script cannot decide if it wants to focus on Alita’s love for Hugo (Keean Johnson) or her foray into the Motorball — a violent cyberpunk cross between rugby and roller derby. Meanwhile, the wonderful Mahershala Ali is largely sidelined as the evil antagonist Vector (not to be confused with the baddie from Despicable Me). When the action comes it is cut short to leave room for poorly written dilemmas and implausible situations, and not enough time is left to explore the characters in any detail.
This is the first attempt at adapting Yukito Kishiro’s manga series Battle Angel Alita for the screen (and the ending reeks painfully of sequel bait), but sadly it comes off less like a battle angel and more like a surrendering sugarplum fairy. Rodriguez gets to have some fun, but especially for a production bearing James Cameron’s name, you expect so much more.
Image: Twentieth Century Fox