Alita: Battle Angel Lacks a Meaningful Script, But It’s a Glorious Spectacle Nonetheless 

click to enlarge 20TH CENTURY FOX
  • 20th Century Fox

Alita: Battle Angel is going to have a tough road ahead trying to convince moviegoers, who aren’t familiar with the Japanese-style comic books and graphic novels known as manga, to give it a shot.

It’s the same uphill battle past films like last year’s Mortal Engines (based on a British, steampunk novel), and the 2017 films Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (based on French comics) and Ghost in the Shell, another manga-inspired story, faced before struggling hard at the box office.

Although considered to be in “development hell” for the past decade, what Alita: Battle Angel has going for it in face value is that visionary, Oscar-winning producer James Cameron (Avatar) is working alongside what seems to be an amenable director in Robert Rodriguez (Sin City). Maybe it’s because Cameron has so much skin in the game (he initially wanted to direct the film himself), it looks like his fingerprints are all over the new cyberpunk action movie. From a visual aspect, that’s a good thing.

Where it doesn’t help Alita: Battle Angel, however, is the fact that Cameron also co-wrote the script with Rodriguez and Laeta Kalogridis (Terminator Genisys). While Cameron and Rodriguez have the style and imagination to create awe-inspiring scenes, their storytelling prowess and ability to write absorbing dialogue is lacking.

click to enlarge 20TH CENTURY FOX
  • 20th Century Fox

As short as the film falls narratively, the world-building and creativity that compose Alita: Battle Angel is glorious, and Alita is the perfect character to develop a fantastical story around. Set in a post-apocalyptic world in the year 2563, the film stars actress Rosa Salazar (Maze Runner: The Death Cure) as Alita, a cybernetic teenage girl who is pulled from a scrapyard by scientist Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz). After he pieces her back together, Dyson becomes Alita’s caretaker. This, of course, is before he realizes that she once functioned as a powerful weapon and is more than capable of handling her own affairs.

Taking control of her own coming-of-age, sci-fi adventure, Alita is met by other machines and humanoids prepared to destroy her. This includes cyborg bounty hunter Zapan (Ed Skrein), hulking cyborg Grewishka (Jackie Earle Haley) and slick-looking villain Vector (Mahershala Ali). Muddling the screenplay are actors Keean Johnson (TV’s Nashville) as Hugo, Alita’s lackluster human love interest; and Jennifer Connelly as Chiren, Dyson’s ex and Vector’s associate, who isn’t given much to do except brood.

Fortunately, Salazar leads the way and carries everyone to the homestretch. Behind those oversized peepers and motion-capture special effects, her depiction of Alita feels authentic and fresh — much like the work Andy Serkis has done with his past projects. If Alita: Battle Angel is the dress rehearsal for Cameron’s upcoming Avatar sequels, we’re definitely intrigued.

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