Alita: Battle Angel (PG-13) ★½

‘Alita: Battle Angel’ Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox

Ultra-Violent Movie, Lacks Heart and Target Audience 

No doubt, we have to talk about those creepy big eyes—from start to finish they are disconcerting—which is a shame, as Alita, the spunky female lead character doesn’t need them to be alluring.

The sci-fi adventure is a dark, ultra-violent and depressing film set in the year 2563 — after a battle referred to as the Fall — Iron City has become a hodgepodge of species. Chained above the city floats Zalem, a utopia where earthbound residences seek happiness. The only way to be granted entrance is to successfully excel at playing motorball, a high-speed roller derby type game.

Alita, the hero, is based on a 1990’s Japanese manga; (a style of Japanese comic books and graphic novels), typically meant for adults as well as children. When we first meet Alita, she’s suffering from amnesia and appears through a motion-capture performance by Rosa Salaza with gigantic CGI eyes. She’s a powerful cyborg with enhanced fighting abilities from Zalem.

‘Alita: Battle Angel’ Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox

Circling back to those eyes, what a mistake creating a Frankensteinish character with ginormous eyes, the only purpose they serve is to distort Alita’s face and muddle the believability of her nuts and bolts body. Why doesn’t any other character in the movie have those child-like big eyes similar to the ones that painters Margaret and Walter Keene were so famous for? Perhaps they serve as an artifice of a child-like warrior when indeed this female lead is a middle-aged teenager. Disturbingly, initially, she appears younger–then, suddenly upon her second re-vamping she has breasts. Christoph Waltz her cyber-scientist, new dad says, “Oh she’s also older than we thought,” perhaps Rosa Salaza the 33-year-old actress who plays her offers clues to Alita’s true age. Regardless, an attempt to have audiences identify with her as a child in the first quarter of the film is ludicrous. Not to mention casting Christoph Waltz, who played Walter Keane in the movie “Big Eyes” as her surrogate dad–now that’s even weirder.

Producer and co-writer James Cameron (“Avatar” 2009) uses source material from, Yukito Kishiro’s graphic-novel series “Gunnm,” he had originally planned to direct “Alita” himself. After the success of “Avatar,” he gave the director’s chair to Robert Rodriguez (“Spy Kids”2001) to create a dark sci-fi world based on a ‘dog eat dog’ mentality.

The action in the movie looks and feels like sequences of a high-speed video game, leaving emotional connection out; yes, there’s a scene showing Alita taking her heart out of her chest and offering it to her boyfriend. However, the dialogue is forced and flat, imprinting yet, another non-believable scene. The violence has death at its core, with savage themes of hunting and killing. Overly sized knife-weapons (guns are banned in the Iron City) are used to cut off body parts, a common occurrence in a battle. Even the high-speed motorball game, losses it’s appeal when Alita is pitted against creepy killers.

‘Alita: Battle Angel’ Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox

The magnificent actress Jennifer Connely portrays a mom who’s grieving the loss of her daughter; she’s a doctor who lives in Zalem. In her opening scenes with the villain Vector (Mahershala Ali), she’s sexily lounging in bed wearing nylon stockings, fastened by a garter belt with a brooding demeanor. Ok, PG-13 rating, what’s going on here? My point, the movie tries to appeal to both kids and adults; I’m here to tell you adding adult sexy and overly violent scenes should never be included in a kid’s or teen’s movie. Clearly, the trailer is geared toward family; this is not a family film.

Without emotional heart, a strong narrative and a believable main character, there’s not too much of a foothold here; other than the fact that a female hero is front and center; unfortunately she’s been given a major disservice as a teenager batting false eye-lashes and cartoonish large saucer CGI eyes.

The Bottom-line: Extreme violence that lacks heart and a target audience.

Sarah Knight Adamson© February 14, 2019