Film: Alita: Battle Angel

In retrospect, it was a mistake to watch Alita: Battle Angel (2019) on an airplane seatback TV, flattening its one undeniable asset: its look. Alas, beyond the visuals, there isn’t much to recommend this live-action science fiction anime from director Robert Rodriguez. The story begins when a cyborg head and torso is located in a trash heap by Ido (Christoph Waltz), who fashions a new body for it and christens the result “Alita” (a CGI-ified Rosa Salazar). Alita doesn’t remember anything about her life before the junkyard, but as she develops a loving daughter/father relationship with Ido and makes friends with parkourific street punk Hugo (Keean Johnson), it quickly becomes clear that she has a history—and some residual programming. Indeed, she is instinctively a lethal, action-adventure badass, and as it turns out there’s plenty of threats in this urban dystopia to make use of her talents.

Alita: Battle Angel is a visual feast of skiffy eyeball kicks and engaging, coherent action choreography. Alita is a likable enough Uncanny Valley manga heroine, and the film’s capabale cast includes Mahershala Ali, Jennifer Connelly, and Ed Skrein, among others. Unfortunately, despite aiming for the right emotional buttons, it never quite punches them, coming across as hollow spectacle. The plot is a scattered, episodic mess, the dialogue is pro forma, and overall nothing about it feels all that authentic. It’s a diverting technical achievement, but otherwise an underwhelming experience.

Rosa Salazar in Alita: Battle Angel
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