When you hear James Cameron, you picture affecting science fiction and expert world building mixed with well-developed characters and plots. Alita: Battle Angel stops these associations dead in their tracks. Even though Cameron was a producer on this film and not the writer or director, one would hope something with his name plastered all over it would have some semblance of his great works of the past; sadly, this isn’t the case as Alita is just another overproduced underdeveloped cash-grab intended to capitalise on the teen dystopia fad that was so popular 5 years ago.
The film’s first major issue was the clumsy world-building – taking up most of the film’s run time was the non-stop explaining of the unfamiliar world around us. Of course not having lived in the 26th century the film depicts, we as an audience need some information but don’t want to be lectured; sadly lectured is what we are and the exposition is so dull. The story might have worked better in another medium, a video game for example where it would have more time to lay out the rules and elements of this society, but sadly as it stands it just felt like too much all at once, none of it interesting. Then of course as a result of the constant attention to the dystopia aspect of the story, it sacrifices good character development. We follow Alita as she navigates a new world with her adoptive father – Dr Ido (Christoph Waltz) – and the first age-appropriate stereotypically good-looking boy she comes across – Hugo (Keenan Johnson) – and tries to remember who she is. Suddenly we’re thrown into the main story wherein these men are her emotional crux and we’re expected to believe they all love each other insurmountably within a week of knowing them. Who knows, maybe it was longer than a week, but we weren’t shown any relationship building which made it hard to sympathise for any of them. Then, throw in a run of the mill big bad in the shape of Edward Norton and you have the most basic and uninspired characters one could hope for in such a film.
The biggest sin of all, however, is Alita herself. Repeatedly running into threats, our concern for her safety diminishes to nothing very quickly as we realise she is never in any real danger. Her martial arts training from the life she can't remember ensures totally her continued safety as she is only ever actually damaged once – but that was a freebie because she had a better, more sexually appealing body at home because of course, she does. Now, suited with bigger boobs, she can tell the boy she met a week ago that she loves him and get back to… whatever it was that she was doing.
Now all that was left for the filmmakers was to attempt to elicit an emotional response from their bored audience, drag the film out far past its natural conclusion, add something that ensures an equally cynical and joyless sequel, and et voila: you have yourself a poor facsimile of a genre film that went out of fashion years ago.