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Home / Industry / Media /  Film review: 'Alita: Battle Angel' is only fitfully thrilling

When a film boasts a formidable team comprising writer/ producer James Cameron (Terminator, Avatar) and director Robert Rodriguez (Sin City) uniting for the adaptation of Yukito Kishiro's manga, its time to sit up and take notice. Set in the post-apocalyptic year of 2563, the science-fiction fantasy adventure follows Alita, a cyborg rescued from a garbage dump and resurrected by cyber surgeon Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz). But Alita (Rosa Salazar, with CG embellishments) has no memory of her origins or past.

Alita swings from sweet, wide-eyed and wondering to a killing machine when placed in conflict situations. Living in Iron City, under the guardianship of Ido, Alita makes friends and enemies, falls in love, rediscovers her purpose and comes to terms with her identity.

The residents of Iron City are obsessed with a violent speed and skill-based sport called Motorball. The top prize for the champion is a pass to the hallowed floating city of Zalem that hovers above the dump yard. Alita’s friend Hugo

(Keean Johnson) introduces her to the sport and to the dream of a better life. But this also sets her on a collision course with Vector (Mahershala Ali) and his co-conspirator, and Ido’s ex-wife, Chiren (Jennifer Connelly). Not only does Vector run the Motorball contest but he is also a conduit for Zalem scientist Nova (Edward Norton).

Rodriguez’s film spikes only in parts – mostly during the high-energy, Hunger Games-style Motorball tournaments. In fact, a lot of Alita: Battle Angel feels like stuff one has seen before. The emotional undertow is pointlessly heavy. Scenes such as Alita’s challenge to a bar full of Hunter-Warriors (bounty hunters) might have been more enjoyable with an injection of humour.

The actors too are short-changed. Waltz is mostly somnambulant and Ali is highly underutilised. The story is disjointed, with several plot points left hanging (what is Zalem really like, what is Nova’s motivation, why is Alita so quick to fall for Hugo and so slow to care about her origins, etc). As a computer graphics-intensive, 3D-enhanced adaptation of Alita’s world, this cyber-story should give manga fans plenty to deconstruct.

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