Alita: Battle Angel movie cast: Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Keean Johnson
Alita: Battle Angel movie director: Robert Rodriguez
Alita: Battle Angel movie rating: 2.5 stars
The year is 2563, 300 years after ‘The Fall’. That is the day ‘The United Republics of Mars’ launched an attack and all the Earth’s cities located in the sky came crashing down — but one. So up there remains one hanging metallic disc of a city called Zalem and down below is Iron City, housing all the survivors of the world who couldn’t make it to Zalem. Now nearly everyone down below wants to make it up there. Why Iron City is so bad, and Zalem is so good, we are never really told.
So how about we deduce some reasons for Iron City? While all the world’s people live there now, the film focuses on only one generic kind — who dress, talk the same, and play the same games. The occupants are either cyborgs (human faces, machine bodies, the two things combined in various ratios), people who maim cyborgs for body parts, hunter-warriors/bounty hunters (the film makes no differentiation between the two categories) who chase ‘criminals’, game masters who engineer cyborgs to race down a stadium on roller skates in a game fashioned as a gladiatorial sport and not caring for injury, and only one really, unequivocally nice man (or is he?), Dr Ido (Waltz). Who would want to inhabit this bleak, bleak world?
And yet, for a while, Alita: Battle Angel promises real warmth in this metallic universe. Cast against type, Waltz is believable without being corny as a scientist with a large, large heart who has kept most of Iron City’s beating. But one cyborg with whom he strikes an instant connection — the film reveals later why — is a girl’s skeleton he recovers from a junkyard. He gives her a body and a name, Alita, and almost from the instant Alita (Salazar) opens her eyes, Ido and she are inseparable. The talented Salazar, in her first lead role, is silk and steel, sulky teen and fearsome warrior, follower and leader.
As long as the film is centred around Ido and Alita, and Battle Angel seems a story about a cyborg trying to find who she was before she ended up in the junkyard, as much confused about the powers she seems to possess as delighted by them, it works. But the film can’t really decide what it should be, how much it should be, and the length it should go towards revealing the sequels to follow.
Based on Yukito Kishiro’s manga series Gunnm, the film was in development for a long time with James Cameron, before finally he decided to cede the directing to Rodriguez. Cameron remains a co-writer and producer, and must take some of the blame for the muddled direction in which Battle Angel proceeds. One minute Alita is a teen rebelling against the curious restrictions put by Ido, next she is seeking to be a bounty hunter, third she is rallying bounty hunters against a criminal with an obscure purpose, then she decides to be part of the death sport on roller skates, and in the middle she, literally, pulls out her heart to offer it to the human she falls in love with (a forgettable Johnson).
Connelly and Ali glide along in one-expression roles largely secondary to the happenings.