Alita: Battle Angel feels like a James Cameron tribute movie

by Russell Baillie / 25 February, 2019
RelatedArticlesModule - Alita: Battle Angel movie review

Teen cyborg epic Alita heavily recycles its creator’s history.

Just as Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One made a scrapyard of his popcorn-movie past in its adolescent futuristic adventure, Alita: Battle Angel feels like it’s James Cameron’s turn to host a cinematic garage sale for the kids.

Busy with Avatar sequels, Cameron, as producer and writer, delegated the directorship of the long-gestating project, based on the 1990s Japanese manga series Gunnm, to Robert Rodriguez, whose live-action cartoons have included his grim Sin City movies and the bubblegum Spy Kids series.

But Alita still feels like a Cameron tribute movie, from a Terminator visual gag at the start, and touches of Aliens and The Abyss, to an ending reminiscent of a certain nautical-themed blockbuster. Quite an achievement for a film about a wide-eyed amnesiac teenage cyborg, Alita (a motion-captured Rosa Salazar), set in 2563. Having been reassembled from scrap parts by a kindly boffin (Christoph Waltz), Alita finds herself adapting to life among the proles in Iron City, above which floats an exclusive utopia named Zalem.

The ground-level dwellers have motorball, essentially a death-or-glory roller derby of humanoid rollerblading powertools, to keep them entertained. With her physical prowess, it’s clear Alita is soon headed for the pro league. That’s once she’s fallen for Hugo, a dull bad-boy with big dreams, and figured out her identity via the inevitable flashbacks.

Alita starts off promisingly, with Salazar and Weta Digital creating a cyber-character with quite a presence, who might have some of The Incredibles’ Violet in her DNA. But all too soon, Alita’s story dissolves into an endless loop of fight scenes and flying amputated cyborg limbs, while the plot goes into severe software meltdown. Having cost about US$200 million, this attempted franchise-starter can’t be called a cheap Cameron knock-off, but it’s still a bland and boring one.

IN CINEMAS NOW

★★1/2

Video: 20th Century Fox

This article was first published in the March 2, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

Latest

Simon Bridges searches for a miracle
108491 2019-07-17 00:00:00Z Politics

Simon Bridges searches for a miracle

by Graham Adams

The opposition leader hoped to pick up election-winning tips in Australia.

Read more
Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela on the tragedy of post-apartheid South Africa
108416 2019-07-17 00:00:00Z Profiles

Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela on the tragedy of post-apa…

by Clare de Lore

Scathing critic of South African Government corruption Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, here to give a public lecture, has insights about forgiveness after...

Read more
Writer Robert Macfarlane finds deeps truths in Underland
108287 2019-07-17 00:00:00Z Books

Writer Robert Macfarlane finds deeps truths in Und…

by Tony Murrow

In a new book, Robert Macfarlane heads underground to ponder mankind’s effect on the planet.

Read more
Why extra virgin olive oil is back on the menu for frying
108203 2019-07-17 00:00:00Z Nutrition

Why extra virgin olive oil is back on the menu for…

by Jennifer Bowden

For decades, the word in the kitchen has been that olive oil shouldn’t be used for frying, but new research could change that.

Read more
Abstract artist Gretchen Albrecht's true colours
108108 2019-07-16 00:00:00Z Profiles

Abstract artist Gretchen Albrecht's true colours

by Linda Herrick

Gretchen Albrecht paintings may be intangible, but they are triggered by real-life experience, she tells Linda Herrick.

Read more
That's a Bit Racist is playful, but it packs a punch
108435 2019-07-16 00:00:00Z Television

That's a Bit Racist is playful, but it packs a pun…

by Diana Wichtel

The taboo-busting doco is trying to change our default settings on race, but some people aren't stoked.

Read more
Are there too many tourists in NZ?
108444 2019-07-16 00:00:00Z Life in NZ

Are there too many tourists in NZ?

by North & South

Here's what's inside North and South's August 2019 issue.

Read more
Huawei's dogged determination: Can it make a breakthrough in New Zealand?
108428 2019-07-16 00:00:00Z Tech

Huawei's dogged determination: Can it make a break…

by Peter Griffin

The tech company at the centre of a trade war between the US and China is willing to go to extraordinary lengths to prove it can be trusted.

Read more