DIR: Mike Mitchell • WRI: James Cameron, Laeta Kalogridis, Robert Rodriguez • PRO: James Cameron, Jon Landau • DOP: Bill Pope • ED: Stephen E. Rivkin, Ian Silverstein • DES: Caylah Eddleblute, Steve Joyner • MUS: Junkie XL • CAST: Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali
The latest in a long line of attempts to turn Manga into gold arrives in the form of Alita, Battle Angel, courtesy of Robert Rodriguez directing and James Cameron serving as producer and co-writer. This has been a pet project of Cameron’s for a long time, at one stage he was going to direct it himself. As a Rodriguez project, it has little or nothing that would make one think of his body of work. Except for maybe having one of the characters wear a bandana.
Alita’s long gestation period has been explained as a mix of other commitments and waiting for technology to be advanced enough to do justice to the visuals of the story. For the most part this has been achieved. There are some good action scenes and beautiful visuals in place. Our motion-capture hero Alita, with her exceedingly large eyes, (looking like one of the children in those paintings our grandmothers owned) becomes easy on the sensibilities quickly enough. A sincere heartfelt performance from Rosa Salazar keeps her interesting and likeable throughout. She is probably the most successful character. Although that’s hardly surprising as the rest of the cast are given little character time and simply serve as foil to the main protagonist.
But what’s it about? Iron City, looking like a picturesque South American ghetto designed for a Coca Cola advertisement, is where the action takes place. Ido Dyson (no relation to the vacuum cleaner people), the local doctor of robotics (cyborg repairman to you and me), rummages through the scrapyard at the centre of Iron City. The scrap is provided by the sky city floating above, the last of its kind, a home to the elite, we are told, and the destination many people would like to get to. The only way to get there is with the right amount of dosh or if you become the champion of the local game Motorball. It involves roller skates and a ball and a violent temperament – and the locals love it. But back to the scrapyard; Ido finds a head amongst the scrap, brings it home and provides it with a body. Did I mention he just happens to fix cyborgs? Soon his new “daughter” has a name, Alita, and gets on with her new life as any enthusiastic young person might. She quickly falls in love with Hugo, a nice chap who happens to hijack cyborgs and steal parts from them. Ido has his own secret, which I will let you find out for yourself. As the story progresses, the life-embracing Alita continues to learn about herself and quickly becomes a young woman filled with a deeper understanding of her destiny. Meanwhile, others have become aware of her existence and aim to possess her.
This being a hoped-for franchise, Alita has the qualities of the first season of a television or web series. A more honest title for this would have been ‘Alita Battle Angel, Chapter 1, We Hope’. Despite being overwrought with plot and events, it leaves us with as many questions as it answers. The muddled, episodic structure and speechmaking dialogue does not help. It’s a shame that they spent so long waiting on the technology that they didn’t take time to work more on the script.