“Alita: Battle Angel”, from director Robert Rodriguez and co-writer/producer James Cameron, was originally set to be released last July as a potential summer blockbuster. Then FOX shuffled their schedule and pushed it to December, hoping for a holiday hit. But then the studio got greedy with the whole “Once Upon a Deadpool” thing (which didn’t pan out too well). “Alita” was once again delayed, this time to February ’19.
Throughout that time I was able to avoid learning a lot about “Alita”, outside of the production team and the cast, which includes past and future Oscar winner Mahershala Ali. Starring in the disastrous sci-fi “Jupiter Ascending” during Oscar voting time in 2015 miraculously didn’t prevent Eddie Redmayne from hearing his name called on Oscar night that year. Being in “Alita” shouldn’t harm Ali’s chances, either.
“Alita: Battle Angel” is not embarrassing by any means. It just isn’t very special. This latest sci-fi mash-up is based on a MANGA comic, and is heavily influenced by both older and modern films, including “Ready Player One”, “Blade Runner” and “BR 2049”, “Transformers”, “I Robot”, “Frankenstein” and even 1975’s “Rollerball”, without having too much new to say.
It’s 2536 – 300 years after “The Fall”, the epic intergalactic war. The wealthy people live in an affluent community, which floats above, while everyone else down below in Iron City – humans and cyborgs – are left to fight and scrap to survive. Christoph Waltz plays a cyber-doctor who finds the discarded head and torso of a cyborg in a junkyard. He brings the young girl back to his laboratory and – voila! – Alita is born.
Rosa Salazar (of “The Maze Runner” series) plays the wide-eyed, robotic teenage girl whose internal structure is actually much older. At first she can’t remember anything about her past life. However, her recall will return at the most convenient times. It’s not long before she realizes her true nature is that of a rebel warrior. But she’s also a girl – and quickly develops a crush on a cute guy named Hugo (“Nashville”‘s Keean Johnson).
The big game in Iron City is motorball, a high-tech version of rollerball from the ’75 film. Becoming grand champion gets you a ticket to the high life. The game is run by Vector (Ali). Like many heads of sports organizations, he may have a shady agenda.
Over the course of the film, the robo-girl juggles romance and run-ins with the law, while trying to discover her true self. While I’m told this adaptation is very true to the MANGA source material, it’s disappointing that there just aren’t really any surprises in “Alita”. This lack of imagination in the script makes the overall viewing experience more tedious than it should be.
And, surprisingly, “Alita” isn’t as intense as I expected. Some of the fast-paced VFX action sequences are cool, though the overall grayish, murky palate makes following things a bit of a challenge.
In an age when great sci-fi films and filmmakers dig deeper and deeper, with fascinating results on multiple levels, “Alita” feels like it’s behind the times. 10 years ago it might’ve dazzled and enchanted audiences. 5 years ago a female empowerment story like this may have created a statement and started a trend. But for today’s audiences “Alita” doesn’t pack enough of a punch.
Unfortunately, this is just another sci-fi action movie.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Alita: Battle Angel” gets a C.
Running Time: 122 min.