Alita: Battle Angel feels like a James Cameron tribute movieby Russell Baillie
Teen cyborg epic Alita heavily recycles its creator’s history.
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
Video: 20th Century Fox
This article was first published in the March 2, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.
Scathing critic of South African Government corruption Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, here to give a public lecture, has insights about forgiveness after...Read more
In a new book, Robert Macfarlane heads underground to ponder mankind’s effect on the planet.Read more
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
The taboo-busting doco is trying to change our default settings on race, but some people aren't stoked.Read more
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