Originally announced back in 2003, Alita faced multiple set-backs due to James Cameron’s work on Avatar and its sequels. After years of languishing in development hell, Cameron appointed his pal Robert Rodriguez (Sin City) as the film’s new director in April 2016, with Cameron staying on as screenwriter and producer.
The film was originally set for a peak summer slot of July 2018, but the film was pushed back not once but twice changing from December ‘18 to February 2019. It’s very rare for a film to be delayed so many times and come out the other end a success, and Alita is no exception to this. Despite a range of serious talent in-front and behind the camera, Alita is an absolute train-wreck due to a poor script, one-dimensional characters and some of the worst performances you’ll likely to see all year.
In 2563 a deactivated female cyborg is revived, but cannot remember who or what she is, so she embarks on a quest to find some answers. On her travels she’ll discover love, motorball and the mysteries surrounding her past.
Easily the biggest issue surrounding this movie is the screenplay, written by Cameron and Laeta Kalogridis (Shutter Island). Every aspect of the script feels cliché and lazy, with the film barely ever coming to life. You can tell 20th Century Fox and Cameron had big plans for a new franchise here, as this does little more than set up this futuristic world and deliver lots of exposition heavy dialogue to keep viewers informed of what we need to know and why.
To the film’s credit, the world they have created here is wonderful to look at and has stunning use of visual effects, no surprise from the team that brought us Avatar. There is also some flashback sequences that take place on the moon and they were superbly done, a plotline which seems destined to be explored further in a sequel.
What was more surprising was the wooden and painful performances from the talented cast. Rosa Salazar and Keean Johnson are our two leads and both youngsters struggle to elevate the material they’re given. Both are uninteresting and you are just rolling your eyes at their needless love story, taking up a large sum of the run time. The usually brilliant Mahershala Ali is astonishingly bad, coming across more like a pantomime villain here, as is Jennifer Connolly who I think believes she is in a different movie altogether. The only real exception is Christoph Waltz, who is charming and likeable in his supporting role.
Too often the film is dull and uneventful. The pacing is a major problem, with the film never really getting out of first gear. The action when it comes is entertaining enough, but Rodriguez’s direction is frustratingly sloppy.
If it’s not unintentionally hilarious, then the film is simply boring. It lacks energy, excitement or any kind of urgency and is the first major disappointment of 2019. We are often reminded that Alita is this Battle Angel like no other, but for audiences the only battle they face is staying awake.
Verdict: Some solid visuals and action do not make up for a lifeless and lacklustre blockbuster which will go down as one of Cameron and Rodriguez’s worst. The sequel-bait finale proves they were far more interested in the future rather than the present.
Best Moment: Motorball!