Alita: Battle Angel feels like a James Cameron tribute movie

by Russell Baillie / 25 February, 2019
RelatedArticlesModule - Alita: Battle Angel movie review

Teen cyborg epic Alita heavily recycles its creator’s history.

Just as Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One made a scrapyard of his popcorn-movie past in its adolescent futuristic adventure, Alita: Battle Angel feels like it’s James Cameron’s turn to host a cinematic garage sale for the kids.

Busy with Avatar sequels, Cameron, as producer and writer, delegated the directorship of the long-gestating project, based on the 1990s Japanese manga series Gunnm, to Robert Rodriguez, whose live-action cartoons have included his grim Sin City movies and the bubblegum Spy Kids series.

But Alita still feels like a Cameron tribute movie, from a Terminator visual gag at the start, and touches of Aliens and The Abyss, to an ending reminiscent of a certain nautical-themed blockbuster. Quite an achievement for a film about a wide-eyed amnesiac teenage cyborg, Alita (a motion-captured Rosa Salazar), set in 2563. Having been reassembled from scrap parts by a kindly boffin (Christoph Waltz), Alita finds herself adapting to life among the proles in Iron City, above which floats an exclusive utopia named Zalem.

The ground-level dwellers have motorball, essentially a death-or-glory roller derby of humanoid rollerblading powertools, to keep them entertained. With her physical prowess, it’s clear Alita is soon headed for the pro league. That’s once she’s fallen for Hugo, a dull bad-boy with big dreams, and figured out her identity via the inevitable flashbacks.

Alita starts off promisingly, with Salazar and Weta Digital creating a cyber-character with quite a presence, who might have some of The Incredibles’ Violet in her DNA. But all too soon, Alita’s story dissolves into an endless loop of fight scenes and flying amputated cyborg limbs, while the plot goes into severe software meltdown. Having cost about US$200 million, this attempted franchise-starter can’t be called a cheap Cameron knock-off, but it’s still a bland and boring one.

IN CINEMAS NOW

★★1/2

Video: 20th Century Fox

This article was first published in the March 2, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

Latest

Ian McEwan confronts the biggest mysteries of life in Machines Like Me
105820 2019-05-23 00:00:00Z Books

Ian McEwan confronts the biggest mysteries of life…

by Charlotte Grimshaw

Ian McEwan’s tale of human-robot love links emotional and artificial intelligence in intriguing ways, writes Charlotte Grimshaw.

Read more
Is chemical residue on fruit and vegetables worth worrying about?
105778 2019-05-23 00:00:00Z Nutrition

Is chemical residue on fruit and vegetables worth…

by Jennifer Bowden

The chemical residues on fruit and vegetables are not dangerous, but rinsing is still advisable.

Read more
Tech Week: Tech no substitute for human kindness in healthcare
106277 2019-05-23 00:00:00Z Tech

Tech Week: Tech no substitute for human kindness i…

by Peter Griffin

A three-month trial at Christchurch Hospital saw remarkable results.

Read more
How Auckland Museum's sustainability journey began on the rooftop
106248 2019-05-23 00:00:00Z Planet

How Auckland Museum's sustainability journey began…

by Ken Downie

Until recently, the Auckland War Memorial Museum’s buildings were highly dysfunctional, says John Glen, the museum’s head of building infrastructure.

Read more
Australia's remote islands home to 414 million pieces of plastic pollution
106295 2019-05-23 00:00:00Z Planet

Australia's remote islands home to 414 million pie…

by Noted

More than 230 tonnes of plastic including straws, bags and toothbrushes found on Australian islands.

Read more
Parliament bullying: Mallard urges rape victims to seek support
What drives 'lone wolf' terrorists? And how can we prevent future attacks?
106117 2019-05-22 00:00:00Z Social issues

What drives 'lone wolf' terrorists? And how can we…

by Devon Polaschek, Maryanne Garry and Joe Burton

Violent extremists are often depicted as “lone wolves”. But this belies the broader psychological, social and digital contexts in which they act.

Read more
Counterterrorism experts on why we must engage with online extremists
106123 2019-05-22 00:00:00Z Social issues

Counterterrorism experts on why we must engage wit…

by David Hall

Seeing an NZ flag flying at a neo-fascist rally in Germany prompted David Hall to ask why violent radicalisation was affecting even his fellow Kiwis.

Read more