This cyborg comic book action blockbuster grinds along under the weight of it’s many malfunctioning parts despite being manufactured by the groundbreaking director of Terminator 2: Judgement Day.
To be fair, James Cameron only wrote and produced this young adult dystopian sci-fi, but it very disappointingly feels bashed together at great expense from discarded bits of other films, including sports films and a teen romance.
With zero sex and the violence visibly neutered, it’s directed with a sledgehammer sensibility by Robert Rodriguez, and it sits uncomfortably between his children-targeted Spy Kids capers, and his hard action adult orientated Desperado trilogy.
Set in the year 2563, and 300 years after a technological crash, the poor remains of humanity lives in a rusting favela, called Iron Town, while above them floats a shiny city where the rich elite hang out.
A kindly cyber-doctor repairs a long-dormant cyborg, a robotic shell modelled on a teenage girl, which he calls, Alita. Her human brain keeps getting flashbacks to military adventures and she’s determined to find out the truth about herself.
As Alita, Rosa Salazar is an engaging presence, whose eyes are hypnotically large due to her face being digitally altered to better resemble the character from the Japanese comic series this film is based on.
While trying to uncover her past, establish her identity, and romancing a handsome leather-clad riding ruffian, Alita takes on two new careers, bounty hunter and professional athlete.
Yes, the script is as overstuffed and contradictory as it sounds. When not trying to start a revolution or steal some kisses, Alita uses her combat skills and anti-matter powered robotic body to take part in the popular and dangerous sport of Motorball.
It’s a violent mass audience roller derby, vaguely reminiscent of 1975 classic, Rollerball, but rendered totally in CGI and with barely a hint of danger.
Not that the film is particularly interested in it anyway, avoiding any attempt to use it as a vehicle for satire or social commentary.
Meanwhile in supporting roles, Oscar winners Christophe Waltz, Jennifer Connelly and Mahershala Ali, seem weighed down by the exercise, rather than using the outlandish setting as an excuse for some ripe performances.
Salazar is a veteran of the Divergent and Scorch Trials franchises, and this is poor as either of their worst episodes, featuring a young parkour performing cast who are uniformly gorgeous and suspiciously buff and well groomed for a bunch of derelict dwelling vagabonds.
A scene where the unarmed Alita single-handedly takes on a bar room full of thugs recalls Joss Whedon’s far superior sci-fi, Serenity, which way back in 2005 executed a similar scene with far greater panache.
And at half the cost of Alita, Serenity had all the wit, excitement and narrative vigour this lacks. However in Alita’s favour I did enjoy the freaky design of various cyborgs, there’s plenty of action and its epic sweep is boosted by some glorious visuals.
Scarlett Johansson’s 2017 adaptation of Ghost In The Shell covered similar cyber ground, and suffered as Alita does from a slavish devotion to the source material, a crime Rodriguez previously committed when making his Sin City films.
And compared to last years riveting cyborg thriller, Upgrade, this is a computer crashing bore, which doesn’t need a sequel, and certainly not a reboot.