Directed by Robert Rodriguez with visionary James Cameron keeping a watchful eye on proceedings and a whopping 16 years in the making, Alita: Battle Angel stars Rosa Salazar as the eponymous hero attempting to discover who, and indeed what, she is in a dystopian futuristic world where violence, greed and corruption are rife.
Based on a series of Manga books by Yukito Kishiro, it’s the year 2563 and we’re in the Iron City. A place where survivors of all nationalities came together after “The Fall” 300 years before. Quite what the fall was or why it happened isn’t really made clear, but it’s left the mysterious utopian realm of Zalem floating amongst the clouds as an all-seeing Big Brother and the opportunity of an escape for the despairing residents of the city.
Down on the ground cyber-surgeon Dr Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz) discovers a discarded robot riddled with alien technology, but possessing a human brain, that he successfully puts back together. Naming her after his late daughter, it isn’t long before Alita discovers she has a very particular set of skills and some very particular people want her dead before she can cause too much trouble.
Teaming up with streetwise rogue Hugo (a rather ordinary Keenan Johnson), Alita’s memories begin flooding back and she sets out to unite Iron City against the repressive regime in charge attempting to quell the killings and misery imposed upon them.
Visually stunning, Alita: Battle Angel is a sumptuous feast for the eyes and in IMAX 3D its spectacular world is almost too much to take in. Jaw-dropping CGI, stylish and inventive fight scenes are impressive, and only just paint over the cracks caused by a weak script, plot holes and thin characters.
It’s the film’s final third where the problems start. An aggressive sport called Motorball, a cross between Robot Wars, Quidditch and even Dancing on Ice, showcase the film’s stand out set-piece, but isn’t followed through whilst the romance between Alita and Hugo doesn’t reach the emotional depths it’s hoping for. Decisions are made too quickly and there’s an unnecessary sense of urgency that could’ve been utilised earlier in the film.
Rosa Salazar brings humanity and warmth to Alita’s voyage of discovery and she looks assured and confident during the action scenes, but the rest of the cast, including Oscar winners Jennifer Connelly and Mahershala Ali, don’t really have anything to do. It’s a shame the same care and attention clearly shown to the remarkable imagery wasn’t employed when exploring character development.
The anti-climactic ending, which inevitably sets up a sequel, leaves you feeling a little short-changed and, hopefully, Rodriguez and Cameron will learn from the failings of this film to take the next one to the heights of Zalem.
Alita: Battle Angel hits UK cinemas on February 6th 2019.
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Film critic. YouTube channel www.youtube.com/benpeytonreviews
Former actor. Band of Brothers, Emmerdale, Holby City and a regular (PC Ben Hayward) in The Bill.
Voiceover artist with Rhubarb Voices.