Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz) is a cyber-surgeon who finds a discarded female cyborg shell in a junkyard. When he restores her, it becomes quickly evident that she’s no ordinary machine. Alita, as he names her, has an innate child-like curiosity. She quickly learns to adapt to the harsh world around her. Along the way she also discovers her history and the real power she wields as she finds her place in a future that makes a clear distinction between the haves & have-nots.
To say that producer James Cameron is instrumental in creating a compelling post-apocalyptic future should come as no surprise from the man who knows a thing or two about killer robots. But Cameron and director Robert Rodriguez are also known to pay a lot of attention to a film’s plot; both proving their respective abilities to flesh out intriguing characters and using emotionally driven story-telling to power action sequences. Beyond the technical superiority expected from a film that has Cameron attached to it, the emotional heft of ‘Alita: Battle Angel’ comes from a connection to the characters. A lot has been said about the lead’s anime-inspired eyes. While they might be an acquired taste, there are many compelling reasons to get lost in them. Rodriguez ensures that Alita is the embodiment of the adage – the eyes are the windows to the soul. Alita is an old soul, and she draws you into her self-discovery. Rosa Salazar brings oodles of charm and conviction to make Alita a fully-realised CGI persona. Christoph Waltz is perfectly cast as her father-figure, and their relationship anchors the plot as the set-pieces unfold around them. The other cyborg figures played by Ed Skrein, Eiza Gonzalez and Jackie Earle Haley add to the deadly mix to make for thrilling fight scenes. However, the considerable talents of Mahershala Ali & Jennifer Connelly are largely wasted.
The biggest problem with ‘Alita: Battle Angel’ is that it resorts to ‘origin’ tropes. Although it soars leaps and bounds in the technical department, it’s hard to shake off the feeling that we’re all too familiar with this story. There’s also a completely unnecessary romantic angle that the film could have done without. While Rodriguez and Cameron push the boundaries of computer wizardry, they choose to follow the storytelling textbook, so whether they succeed in breaking the curse of the live-action anime adaptation is up for debate. That aside, ‘Alita: Battle Angel’ is another testament to the power of big-screen IMAX 3D extravaganzas even though there are no great surprises in its ‘last-of-her-kind’ narrative.