Alita: Battle Angel
How satisfying is it finally to have again a sci-fi movie heroine who can really kick some ass? The title character in Alita: Battle Angel is a cyborg — basically, a robot with a human brain and face — who has uncanny fighting abilities that allow her to take down fierce-looking fellow cyborgs 10 times her size.
Sometimes it seems her sheer level of anger turns her into an unstoppable force — sort of like Liam Neeson with softer skin and synthetic appendages. Amid the creeping of angst of the Star Wars and Avengers movie franchises, Alita is a thrilling change of pace.
Based on a Japanese manga comic, co-written and produced by James Cameron (Titanic) and directed by Robert Rodriguez (Sin City, Spy Kids), Alita is the full package, in every sense of that word. Its steam punk setting in a post-apocalyptic future is beautifully designed and comes with an elaborate, coherent web of myth, doled out a little at a time.
The focus is Alita (Rosa Salazar), rescued from a trash heap and rebuilt by cyborg surgeon Dr. Ido (Christoph Waltz) and befriended by obligatory teen-dream sidekick Hugo (Keean Johnson). The antagonists are mostly hulking or nasty-looking cyborg bounty hunters and mercenaries, many of them connected to a shadowy puppeteer named Nova (an uncredited Ed Norton). The conspiracy against Alita involves a deadly Rollerball-like game, a floating city paradise and Mahershala Ali and Jennifer Connelly, whose impeccable tailoring identifies them as villains.
Mostly, though, the movie is a great excuse for a series of thoroughly entertaining, CG-heavy action sequences, involving endlessly creative variations on warrior robots with fully human faces (the meanest giant, ironically, has the face of tiny Jackie Earle Haley). The special effects are impressive without ever becoming excessive, created mostly by Weta Digital, the FX company last seen spinning its wheels (literally) for the dreadful Mortal Engines. (The 3D option for Alita is worthwhile but not mandatory.)
Some of the plot reveals are not surprising and some of the back story is eye-roll-worthy, but Alita herself, with her giant eyes, is a fun cross between perky kitten and killer tiger. (Don’t mess with her dog!) The complexity of the sci-fi world may be an impediment to mainstream success, but if you can’t wait to see whether Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel will brighten your world, give Alita a shot.
Grade: A-minus. Rated PG-13. Now playing at Biltmore Grand, Carolina Cinemark and AMC River Hills.
(Photos: 20th Century Fox)