With such proven filmmakers as James Cameron and Robert Rodriguez behind it, you’d figure that “Alita: Battle Angel” would be something unique.
It is that visually, at least, thanks especially to the title character – who’s taken from a manga comic-book series – but like Alita, the story is made up of various parts and pieces, drawn from other movies from “Rollerball” to “Short Circuit.” Cameron co-wrote the screenplay, and maybe he meant it to be a tribute to forerunners in the fantasy genre. If not … well, let’s just say that a whole lot feels familiar here.
The futuristic tale casts Christoph Waltz as a doctor who assembles odds and ends into Alita, who has the memory of a fighter and is played via the motion-capture technique by Rosa Salazar (“American Horror Story”). She becomes involved in a brutal contest that can gain you entry into an elite society, provided that you don’t get dismantled or killed in the process.
As if the game isn’t tough enough, schemers played by Jennifer Connelly and recent “Green Book” Oscar winner Mahershala Ali are plotting its outcome, which does not spell good things for Alita. Her relationship with a human also challenges her to keep her head in the competition.
Conversely, there’s little doubt that moviegoers’ attention will be right where it’s supposed to be while watching the movie, thanks to the look Alita has been given. She’s modified just enough to look surreal as she interacts with flesh-and-blood characters, and that’s all to the credit of the film’s technical team. Some other figures also reflect the just-“off”-enough animation technique, but if it doesn’t work for Alita specifically, the rest is a lost cause.
While the Oscar-laden, Rodriguez-directed cast is impressive, the performers get to do only so much (other than the pivotally involved Salazar) amid all the bountiful action. Waltz could do his role in his sleep, but there’s a certain amount of fun in watching Connelly sink her teeth (and her smoky gazes) into the part of an evildoer.
The style is the biggest selling point of “Alita: Battle Angel,” with the pacing frequently frantic enough to mirror the Rodriguez “Spy Kids” movies. But that’s exactly the thing: Just about everything here reminds you of something that’s been done before, so trying to be original is a battle that “Alita” ultimately loses.