Delayed release dates and underwhelming reviews/box office herald the Australian arrival of ‘Alita: Battle Angel’.
Considering it's produced by James Cameron, directed by Robert Rodriguez and features a respectable cast it really should come as no surprise though, to find that the movie works on a few levels. Sure the dialogue is clunky and exposition heavy, the ending is a shocker given that it sets up sequels unlikely to come any time soon and some of the characterisation is a bit on the nose. Yet the movie makes use of its budget, features humour throughout proceedings and has a strong theme about a young girl coming into her own that resonates.
At its heart the story of Alita (Rosa Salazar in a motion capture performance to rival Andy Serkis) is that of an orphan and her adoptive father Dr Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz, very gentle and warm here) and how he has to let her go as she grows up. Christoph literally frowns at the first sight of Hugo (Keean Johnson) and insists on curfews early on. The plot is predictable too, many characters start out having secrets but if you’ve been around the block a few times in this genre, most of your guesses should prove correct. With such plotting it falls to Rosa’s performance to lift the movie which she does. Her facial expressions convey so much of Alita’s goodness and optimism that you can’t help but want to see how things turn out for her. After so many genre films where the hero is repressed and burnt out, it is refreshing to see one so full of joy and hope. Even when angry she’s righteous and when hurting she’s heartfelt.
It has to be said as the tale goes on, a lot of bad things happen and this world is too violent for what would be under other circumstances its intended audience. Maybe the filmmakers were hoping the censors would look the other way with dismemberment if it involved cyborgs but these are still creatures with human faces meeting painful ends. The mood is dark too which makes sense for the rough streets of a dystopian world, but a little too dark perhaps.
The movie’s 3D is some of the best seen in recent years, which makes sense given the maker of ‘Avatar’ is producing. The effects are more than good and the action is fairly exciting – if a little repetitive after a while. Ultimately ‘Alita’ is not perfect. Alita the character is though, and her story is done well enough that you leave hoping to see more of it in the future.