Robert Rodriguez and James Cameron misfire with a dull adaptation
Rosa Salazar in “Alita: Battle Angel”
James Cameron wants you to see “Alita: Battle Angel.” I mean, really wants you to see it. And why shouldn’t he? He’s only been trying to get this story, adapted from the titular manga, for going-on 20 years.
“Alita: Battle Angel” kicks off with Dr. Ido (Christoph Waltz), an apparent robot surgeon who augments humans with mechanized weapons, fishing the body-less head of a girl out of a heap of garbage. He takes her home and decides to name her Alita after his dead daughter in hopes of reconnecting with her. From there she awakens with a wicked case of amnesia and sets out to discover her purpose.
Alita’s journey of self-discovery is filled with breath-taking digital vistas, violent confrontations (albeit the PG-13 kind), and lots of anime-sized eyes staring longingly into each other. Alita (Rosa Salazar) falls in love with Hugo, a handsome fellow with the physique of a pro-athlete and the face of a 14-year-old boy. Hugo may or may not be working with the bad guys as a scrapper for parts to pay his way to the fantastical paradise, Zalem, a floating city looming over the junkyard that is Iron City. Alita, too, has hopes of leaving the Iron City for Zalem. She decides to compete in motorball, which is like Rollerball but with robots, in hopes of winning her way to Zalem.
Unfortunately, every performance feels like a literal translation of the hand-drawn characters from the original manga—broad and cartoonish. You’d be hard pressed to discover any real actor was used at all, but rather scanned into a computer and directed pixel by pixel on how to act.
“Alita: Battle Angel” is as much a garbage dump of a movie as the pile of detritus from which Alita was formed. The script is from Cameron and a frequent collaborator Late Kalogridis, who present Alita as an icon of female empowerment, but it’s all for naught because she immediately falls in love with Hugo and does everything seeking his approval and validation.
It says a lot when the brilliant mind behind the billion-dollar box office behemoth “Avatar” as well as the Oscar-winning “Titanic” decides to pass the directorial buck to Rodriguez, who is known for making special-effects bonanzas on the cheap. I’m sure this is one of those films that would probably look better in 3-D. (After all, Cameron pioneered a whole new 3-D type of cinematography with his partner John Landau.) However, at this point Robert Rodriguez’ specific aesthetic feels so flat and reliant upon CGI and set extensions that it’s no different than any of the mindless CGI fodder in his portfolio.
This film is a veritable Old Country Buffet of sci-fi tropes. You like serial killer subplots? It’s got one! Futuristic bounty hunters? Of course! Intergalactic battle between good and evil? Check! But despite the presence of all these subplots from the original nine-volume manga, the end result is disappointingly flat and hollow.