Alita: Battle Angel

 

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The cyberpunk heroine from manga’s Gunnm is a recycled affair that sorely wastes the talent of its creators, Robert Rodriguez and James Cameron.

 

Alita - Battle Angel

The eyes don't have it: Keean Johnson and Rosa Salazar 

 

Frankenstein has come a long way since 1818. Here, the good doctor is transplanted to a post-apocalyptic future where he sows on prosthetic limbs and builds cyborgs from the mechanical detritus he scrounges from scrapyards. He’s known as Dyson Ido and is played by the double Oscar-winner Christoph Waltz. There are a couple of other Oscar-winning actors on hand – Jennifer Connelly and Mahershala Ali, in automated roles – although the real star of the film is James Cameron. Much like Peter Jackson, who produced and co-wrote last year’s ungainly, post-apocalyptic Mortal Engines, Cameron produced and co-wrote Alita: Battle Angel, vacating the director’s chair in favour of Robert Rodriguez. Rodriguez was a champion of digital cinema back in the early Noughties and Cameron a pioneer of special effects in the 1980s, so their combined visual expertise promised much. And, yes, they have conjured up a suitably spectacular urban dystopia, but nothing we haven’t seen before. It does look all rather awesome in 3D, though, a medium that Cameron has also advanced.

 

Here, the jewel in Rodriguez and Cameron’s crown – and Dr Ido’s – is the eponymous Alita. With her head salvaged from a waste dump and a whole new artificial body built from scratch, she resembles a cartoon Disney princess, complete with larger-than-life eyes (a condition known as macrophthalmia). Although embodied by Rosa Salazar (from the post-apocalyptic The Divergent Series: Insurgent and The Maze Runner films), she is really a cartoon, CGI-processed version of the actress, supplying the same blend of the real and the digitally distorted that characterized the Na'vi in Cameron’s Avatar. She is a far cry from Mary Shelley’s monster and her pretty face and taut teenage frame is aimed to capture our hearts. Suffering from amnesia, Alita sees the post-industrial dystopia of ‘Iron City’ as a place of wonder, an outlook that could have been made more of. Dr Ido has actually created her in the image of his late daughter, albeit with bigger eyes, recalling Christoph Waltz’s previous screen incarnation as the painter Walter Keane in Big Eyes, in which he endowed his subjects with, well, macrophthalmia.

 

At first, all this is rather intriguing, broaching the topical themes of AI and the computerisation of human intelligence, with a nod to Pinocchio. Then Alita’s wide-eyed innocence is swiftly abandoned when she discovers an innate ability to kick major butt, a facility that her new body would appear to accommodate. Soon we are presented with an array of increasingly monstrous cyborgs and shifty characters with misanthropic agendas. Much like Alita herself, the film is a patchwork of the recycled, appropriating ideas (both visual and thematic) from everything from Blade Runner and Total Recall to Rollerball. For Heaven’s sake, there’s even a kiss-in-the-rain wrenched straight out of Four Weddings and The Notebook. An adaptation of the manga comic Gunnm, the film will inevitably be compared to Ghost in the Shell, another manga translation featuring a combatant cybernetic heroine. But this bloated, chaotic addition to the genre lacks a credible human centre that so distinguished the former.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Ed Skrein, Jackie Earle Haley, Keean Johnson, Lana Condor, Jorge Lendeborg Jr, Eiza González, Jeff Fahey, Idara Victor, Rick Yune, Michelle Rodriguez, Jai Courtney, Edward Norton.

 

Dir Robert Rodriguez, Pro James Cameron and Jon Landau, Screenplay James Cameron and Laeta Kalogridis, Ph Bill Pope, Pro Des Caylah Eddleblute and Steve Joyner, Ed Stephen E. Rivkin and Ian Silverstein, Music Tom Holkenborg (aka Junkie XL), Costumes Nina Proctor.

 

20th Century Fox/Lightstorm Entertainment/Troublemaker Studios/TSG Entertainment-20th Century Fox

121 mins. USA/Canada/Argentina. 2019. Rel: 6 February 2019. Cert. 12A.