Trying to say something new is every filmmakers goal, or at least it should be with everything they do. Be it something little, a human eccentricity that highlights a story or an emotion or something huge, like Avatar’s brave new world of new and wondrous creatures. You don’t have to construct a whole new world to break new ground and most directors and writers seem to think that to have something important to say, it has to be laced with something exciting and never done before. This is where Alita comes in, as it pushes boundaries with its science fiction story, its computer animated visuals and a whole new world of unlimited possibilities. That is why it is so unfortunate that Robert Rodriguez’s latest effort is a stale creation, lacking in the sense of adventure Alita effuses yet fails to instil in the people or world around her.
Telling the story of an android called Alita (Rosa Salazar) who after being found in a junkyard is brought back to the lab of Dr Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz) to be repaired. Re-animated with no memories of her life before, Alita must acclimate to a new world and way of living. However with the help of street kid Hugo (Keean Johnson) she learns the important parts of life haven’t really changed over the years. The concepts of love and loss and everything in between are universal and most of all, timeless.
While plenty has been made of Alita in recent weeks and the effect James Cameron has had on the production of this technical marvel and it is hard not to notice his influence. The most adventurous visual films of the last decade have been because of Cameron and Alita is nothing different. The futuristic and progressive attitude it projects is in part because of Cameron and the people at WETA who have spent plenty of time creating the character of Alita and making her human despite her android body. Using a captivating motion capture performance by Salazar, WETA has created a 3D character, full of small bites and flaws, a creation of two worlds for a character stuck between them.
A prescient story of what is real and what is fake, Alita uses its graphical enhancements to progress its tale of new vs old and savior vs survivor. However director Robert Rodriguez overplays his hand here as he overused the computerised elements, not only ripping the heart out of half the film but also turning adventure into plot progression. It is fun when you don’t notice the plot points moving around in the background and we are allowed to just let loose but Alita seems intent on getting you to some magical realisation, what that is, I haven’t the foggiest. Action scenes designed to harden Alita devolve into a mesh of colours, much like a Michael Bay transformers film. Not only does each moment of danger mesh into the other but it is hard to know who you are rooting for or following as machine fights machine and limbs fly everywhere.
However it is in Alita’s story that Rodriguez’s film goes off the rails. While it plays as a borderline generic love story between Alita and Hugo, Rodriguez is telling the origin story of a hero, a person unbound by such ideals, intent on rescuing the little people around her. When the film gets bogged down in this fight she is having inside herself, the film drifts aimlessly through scenes. Add to this the bizarre cameos by Mahershala Ali and Jennifer Connelly that serve little to no purpose and you have a film full of half-baked ideas, desperate to come together in some meaningful way.
While it is hard not to notice the time and effort that went into Alita, it is impossible not to notice the slapdash way in which the plot was approached and while it does set up an interesting sequel, one that could reach the potential that this had, I’d have prefered if they gave this the time it needed to get it right. While you may enjoy yourself at first, the visuals carry themselves very well at first, things quickly degrade into a mess of ideas, colours and body parts, luckily most of them aren’t human.