Film: Alita Battle Angel; Director: Robert Rodriguez; Starring: Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz; Rating: ** ½ (Two and a half stars)
“I am a very insignificant girl,” our petite firebrand, easily the most heart-melting super-hero ever, says when she is surrounded by assorted mean machines, who just want to kill her and be done with it.
If only life in a superhero movie were that simple!
Punk cyborgs infest the world of this James Cameron-produced misfire which aims to give the superhero a new Avatar(pun intended). To be sure. Rosa Salazar with those big expressive eyes and a face that launches a thousand airships, is just the kind of new-age heroine we were looking for. A true wonder-woman, no offence meant.
Because of Salazar’s tender years and fragile personality, the film is artfully (though not cleverly enough) perched between being a big-spectacle super-hero adventure and a teen highschool romance. The mix doesn’t make the narrative squirm in an uneasy blend. But neither is the synthesis of sci-fi and silliness conducive to the kind of screen-ripping spectacle that Cameron’s name is associated with.
In short, the film is not short of meat but abysmally short of spice.
Though the female lead is a fine discovery who makes even the most awkward pauses in the script (and there are many of those here, roll your eyes to your heart’s content) negotiable, the film overall delivers a vapid blow, meant only to tease us. No harm intended.
The scale of the film is impressive. We’ve seen post-apocalyptic cities being created ad nauseam in super-hero films. But here the ruination is ravishing. Every detail makes the topographical flaws seem fabulous. And the 3D(a technique I abhor as much as Indra Kumar’s comedy) is used with more restrain and thought than I’ve seen in any recent film.
The narrative does well for itself when running fast. Where the film fails is in the pauses. Those attempts to humanize Alita’s girl-superhero character by making her go gooey-eyed for the neighbourhood boy-man (Keean Johnson) is at best, a giggle fest. At worst, a laughable nuisance.
Sample this. Alita the cyber-girl, all lovelorn and hopelessly devoted, reaches into her blouse. Lover-boy looks panicky. She reassures him and pulls out…her heart. UA lives!
Christoph Waltz whop lays Alita’s Frankenstein has an incurably mournful look about him. He cannot bring to the screen the mystery of a godlike creator. More than Waltz I was intrigued by the actress who plays his nurse. She hardly speaks, always smiles. Perhaps she knows where this film is taking us, better than we do.
The corny tributes to conventional courtship sit uneasily on the narrative, dragging it down to a sluggish slo-mo when all this swish-and-whoosh actioner really wants to do is get down on the floor to do a dance of death. The action is splendid. Cameron’s crew has spared no expenses to ensure a surplus of stunts that explode on to the screen like chorus dancers doing the cha-cha-cha for a visiting dignitary.
It’s all very eye-catching and impressive. But finally it leaves us with nothing to hold on to. What I carried home was Salazar’s lucid eyes speaking more than the words and the action, looking with dreamy curiosity into the camera, searching into the yonder. What was she looking for? Whatever it was, I hope she found it. Because I didn’t.