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Movie Review: Aiya, James Cameron’s Manga Adaptation ‘Alita: Battle Angel’ Is Overstuffed And Underpowered

Like 'Ghost in the Shell', 'Alita' suffers from 'The John Carter Effect'.

Movie Review: Aiya, James Cameron’s Manga Adaptation ‘Alita: Battle Angel’ Is Overstuffed And Underpowered

​​​​​​​Alita: Battle Angel (PG13)

Starring Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Mahershala Ali,
Directed by Robert Rodriguez

Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the highly-anticipated James Cameron and Robert Rodriguez collab is a bit of a let-down.

Chalk it up to bad timing: it had taken way too long to get Yukito Kishiro’s manga series — published between 1990 and 1995 — to the big screen; Cameron was attached as director for more than 20 years before handing the reins to Rodriguez, staying onboard as producer.

And when the live-action version finally arrives with all the bells and whistles, it suffers the same fate that befell another manga adaptation, the Scarlett Johansson-starring, Ghost in the Shell: a victim of ‘The John Carter Effect’, a condition in which the holy-cow elements in the source material aren’t as awesome as they are in the movie because they’ve been appropriated for other works (Alita’s post-apocalyptic world will draw comparisons to the ones in Elysium, District 9, and Wall-E).

The story of Alita is also similar to Ghost in the Shell’s: an amnesiac cyborg trying to regain memories of her past life, painfully and violently. Whereas Ghost in the Shell is a straight-forward ‘who-am-I?’ mystery, Alita is a little more complicated.

Before the titular creepy-ass, saucer-eyed bionic lass (performed by Maze Runner: The Scorch Trial’s Rosa Salazar via motion capture) finds out her true identity, she gets involved in a romance (pass!), a league of cyborg bounty hunters (interesting!), and a game of Motorball, which is like a NASCAR-fied version of roller-derby (wow!).

There’s a lot of stuff crammed into the two-hour movie (penned by Cameron and Laeta Kalogridis, the creator of the Netflix dystopian thriller Altered Carbon), and the tone is erratic — one moment it’s in neutral gear, the next high, and then back to neutral again. It’s at once busy and bland. Even by the end of it, Alita’s backstory is still shrouded in darkness (it has something to do with Mars).

I understand the need to leave things open for a sequel, but here, there are just too many dangling strands to keep track of. Alita is more interested in building worlds than telling a standalone story; it’s a down payment on a budding franchise built on a shaky foundation.

Oh well, at least the special effects fireworks are a technical marvel. That, and it’s nice to see Christoph Waltz in a rare good guy role as Alita’s adoptive father. (**1/2)

Photo: 20th Century Fox

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