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Alita: Battle Angel - DVD Review

Alita: Battle Angel

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 2.5 out of 5

HOLLYWOOD’S record for adapting Japanese mangas has been patchy, to say the least. Yet Alita: Battle Angel arrives with impeccable credentials, in the form of James (Avatar) Cameron – who co-wrote the screenplay and co-produces – and Robert Rodriguez (of Sin City/Grindhouse fame).

Alas, anyone expecting another futuristic masterpiece to rival the likes of Cameron’s best may well be disappointed to find that Alita, despite a promising start, feels much less than the sum of its parts.

Based on the manga series Gunnm by Yukito Kishiro, Alita: Battle Angel also owes a lot, visually, to every futuristic movie from Blade Runner to Robocop via Rollerball and Metropolis. But therein lies one of its primary problems.

In striving so hard to pay homage to its inspirations, both Cameron and Rodriguez forgot to create something distinct in its own right. Hence, for all the visual panache on display, Alita emerges as something hopelessly generic and conventional.

For a filmmaker of Cameron’s quality, this is particularly disappointing.

Picking up in the year 2563, the film begins as cybernetics expert Dr Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz, channelling his good guy for a change) discovers the ‘core’ of a highly advanced, full-body cyborg with a surviving teenage-girl brain that’s actually 300-years-old.

He rebuilds her and names her after his dead daughter, Alita. But as Alita (Rosa Salazar) rediscovers her hidden warrior instincts, she finds herself and Dr Ido being hunted by all manner of shady characters out to scrap her, and thereby prevent her from gaining access to the higher city of Zalem and its sadistic ruler.

Helping her along the way is a boy named Hugo (Keean Johnson), whose own morality and ambition is put to the test as he begins to fall for Alita.

Early on, Rodriguez’s film shows plenty of potential as it builds a credible world and characters for Alita to inhabit, while also making good use of Waltz’s Dr Ido, as a sympathetic inventor with a genuinely tragic back-story.

Rodriguez also keeps the action muscular, often pushing the boundaries of the 12A certificate, yet getting away with certain graphic fight scenes by virtue of the fact he is tearing apart circuits and metal rather than flesh and blood. It’ll certainly give younger viewers an odd kind of thrill, even if their parents sit uneasily next to them.

But around the halfway mark, once Alita has laid waste to a bar-room full of potential allies, the film starts to derail itself. The romance between Alita and Hugo never convinces and feels insipid, the numerous villains feel under-developed for actors of the quality playing them (Mahershala Ali and Jennifer Connelly in particular) and the accelerated storyline feels like its suddenly rushing towards a conclusion that exists more to set things up for a hoped for franchise rather than delivering any real closure.

Once that arrives, viewers may feel cheated, given that Alita‘s indifferent box office performance has already made a sequel highly unlikely, even with Cameron pushing from behind the scenes.

Alita remains big on spectacle throughout, but under-developed thematically and emotionally. And while it could well be destined for some kind of cult status, it also has to rate as a huge missed opportunity given the high hopes involved.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 116mins
UK Blu-ray & DVD Release: July 22, 2019