By Jonathan Reed
Video supplied by 20th Century Fox©
James Cameron has, more than once, proved why he is master of spectacle filmmaking. Not many Directors today can boast of directing the two biggest movies of all time, Avatar and the juggernaut, Titanic. He is a Visionary, both visually and theoretically. He is known for placing strong female roles at the centre of his films, more than most in his field, and his latest action-packed creation is no different – Alita: Battle Angel.
Based on the hugely successful Manga series by Japanese writer Yukito Kishiro, James Cameron purchased the rights to the story over twenty-years ago. But now with the advancements in CGI and motion-capture performance, similarly with Avatar, Kishiro’s story can be imagined on screen as Cameron intended.
Firstly, it is worth noting the CGI. This is James Cameron – though this time not in the Director’s chair, instead Robert Rodriguez takes the helm – and his work in advancing the capabilities of special effects has been as influential as his movies. Put simply, Alita’s world is brought to life with such detailed scope it truly takes your breath away. It manages to build on the industry changing imagery from Avatar and sets a new standard for movies to achieve.
And whilst the graphics are mind-blowing, utilised expertly to form heart-stopping, adrenaline-fuelled action pieces, sadly everything else falls by the wayside.
This is the most frustrating aspect of Alita: Battle Angel. The CGI is unique, but nothing else is. Everything seems too familiar, as if the entire movie is a patchwork from other sci-fi stories. The battle of have and have-not is taken straight from Elysium where sky-utopia Zalem looks down over the rusting Iron City. The ‘Motorball’ future-sport is instantly recognisable from ‘Rollerball’ but with a mechanical make-over. And even Alita’s struggle with her identity is seemingly plucked from Ghost In The Shell.
Sadly, perhaps Cameron’s connection to Alita: Battle Angel is why these repetitive themes seem so disheartening. James Cameron is a unique filmmaker, someone who creates masterpieces that have never been seen on screen. He is a Director who redefines genres, not mirrors them.
With the similarities come the problems. The plot is overstuffed, the CGI takes too much of the centre stage and the characters lack any real depth, though beautifully brought to life by the cast, with special mention to Rosa Salazar. Throughout the movie, you feel as if the script doesn’t really give enough of an emotional-arc for the actors to sink their teeth into, Alita feels skin deep (ironic for a Cyborg).
As we enter the final act, everything starts to crumble beyond anything James Cameron can ever save. Alita’s ‘Motorball’ narrative which drives the movie’s plot is unexplainably dropped without a moment’s thought. The romance, between Alita and stereotypical ‘bad-boy’ Hugo becomes so ridiculous it makes ‘Harry Potter’ believable. And the flagrant sequel-bait ending robs Alita of the conclusion she deserves. If – and we say that hypothetically – there is another outing for the cyber–ass-kicking Alita, then let us hope we see less convoluted stereotypes and a bit more of that old Cameron blockbuster magic.