In a dystopian future (one of those orange shabby chiq ones with robots) Dr Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz) finds an abandoned robot body with a human brain inside of it (Risa Salazar). Reviving the cyborg and naming it Alita she: a. explores her new city and meets a boy she likes (Keean Johnson) b. becomes a bounty hunter that the populace call “Hunter Warriors” with a straight face. c. engages in a dangerous sport resembling rollerball called, imaginatively, motorball. and d. find out where she came from and how it relates to a mysterious villain called Nova.
It’s a messy plot that flows more like a stream of conscious in which characters suddenly spring from one scenario to another, all of which detracts from the believably of this strange world. Characters change motivation and beliefs at the behest of the plot and often the whole thing feels unmotivated. Alita is a very endearing character but she often feels inexplicable in her actions, springing just a little too randomly between grim avenger, lovelorn teenager and (quite literally) wide-eyed babe in the woods.
The film is the product of two very distinctive film makers, uniting to make a very in-distinctive film. Robert Rodriguez has never made a film on this scale and the smallness of his previous work is apparent here, and not just because some of the special effects look like they were produced in his shed. His signature violence is here, albeit bloodlessly, and is one of the more affecting aspects of a rather sterile film. Otherwise it’s hard to see much of him in this work.
James Cameron meanwhile, the screenwriter and producer of the film, has since Titanic been more interested in working on films that push technical boundaries, than explore new worlds, characters or narratives. Unfortunately the only revelation to be found here is that special effects don’t seem to have come much further than Avatar, especially when combining real life elements with Computer Generated Imagery. Characters who are faces pasted on to animated bodies are never believable. Alitta is charmingly played by her motion capture artist Risa Salazar but she’s always uncanny.
The world itself looks fine and is well designed but I often find that the more prominent a single element of the world is, the smaller it seems. Here that element is motorball. If there’s street crime, it’s to fund motorball. If there are drug dealers, they’re hooked on performance enhancers from motorball. The only way to escape poverty? Motorball. The only other prominent aspect to this world is the notion of law being provided by bounty hunters hilariously named “hunter warriors”.
There’s not much new to Elite Battle Angel and it doesn’t feel like a story that just needed to be told. It’s a big flashy mess with some enjoyable components.