Alita Battle Angel is a beautiful film to look at but it could have used a more effective script.
The film also has Academy Award winner, Jennifer Connelly, and Academy Award nominees Jackie Earle Haley and Mahershala Ali who add to the quality of the performance of young Rosa Salazar who plays Alita. In the beginning we watch Christoph Waltz playing Dr Dyson Ido a specialist in replacement surgery discover the remains of a young woman who was altered in the past and has been disposed of from the islands in the sky where the privileged folks live and control the society. Dr Dyson Ido repairs the young woman and in the process she becomes much stronger physically, but she has no remaining memory of her past.
Some of the best moments occur as Alita begins to move into the society on the planet which is filled with unique and different folks she does not remember, compressed into what appears to be a society only in urban locations. The art work of the buildings, streets and machine dominated industry fit perfectly into this dysfunctional future society. I often wonder why so many of the stories of the relative near future are of destroyed societies where the gap between the well to do and the working folks is beyond what would be tolerated. It would be enjoyable to see a bright future in some of the imagination of the script writers.
A young human man Hugo played nicely by Keenan Johnson is attracted to the large bright eyed young woman who is completely impressed with the new environment she finds herself in. Their love story is part of the core of the story.
The larger story is the discovery that Alita has skill and power far beyond what is expected. She is up to challenging the corporate head who controls all that we see. Mahershala Ali is Vector the evil one who rules from above.
While it appears that she is someone special, it remains for her to prove herself. That opportunity comes on the street when she plays a game with Hugo and some of his friends in which powered roller skates move the kids around the streets and they fight to be first to place a ball in a tube like space for a score. It looks quite like Rollerball from 1975 in which James Caan played an almost identical game which also attracted public attention but placed the players in danger. Here Alita’s game is much faster and filled with actions that come from special effects.
She eventually becomes popular and accepts a leadership role in the attack on the forces above. The characters she must battle are in some cases like her, with human brains and giant appendages filled with barbs and metal arrows. Some look like large bugs and act like tanks. The question is can she defeat the power that has held centuries.
One interesting scene occurs as she and Hugo are attempting an assault on the floating places above and a twirling blade slides down the attachment they are mounting. She is able to leap over the device but Hugo is caught and Alita must hold on to him as his structure begins to slip. It reminds us of the 1942 Hitchcock film Saboteur in which Robert Cummings attempts to hold on to Norman Lloyd as the two struggle on the top of the Statue of Liberty and Lloyd’s sleeve which is help by Cummings begins to rip at the stitches. The stitches come apart slowly and place Lloyd in danger of falling. The scene in Alita plays out very much the same.
Alita is a beautiful work to look at and the special effects which make Alita look different, but not too different, are very effective. The film overall is stunning to observe but a more comprehensive purpose in the script would have given it a more powerful purpose.