In Alita: Battle Angel, director Robert Rodriguez (Spy Kids) steps into the limelight again, this time taking a script by James Cameron (Avatar) based on the classic manga serial by the same name and bringing it to the big screen.
While searching for cybernetic scrap, Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz) discovers the unbelievable - a still functional cyborg core he names "Alita" (Rosa Salazar). Although she has no memory of who she is or what happened to her, it quickly becomes clear that she is no ordinary being. As she experiences more of the new world around her Alita begins to understand more of her past, even as new loyalties begin to shape her future.
Cameron is a masterful storyteller, and the Alita script is no exception. There is a lot of room for predictability in a story that has been told numerous times already - that of someone whose past is a mystery and whose purpose becomes clear as the tale progresses - but many of the expected things do not happen. In his typical style, Cameron throws surprising curves. There are a few moments that go as expected, as well as a few call-outs to previous Cameron movies, but it is mostly fresh and entertaining.
Rodriquez has a particular style of direction in his action films, and you can feel his presence throughout. He manages to pull great performances from all of his lead actors - even when they aren't fully actors at all. We seem to have finally reached that point where CGI metahumans and protohumans manage completely realistic and complex facial expressions, helping the scene rather than distracting from it. The only unfortunate thing that remains from this is, occasionally, some of the flesh-and-blood actors seem to be looking through the CGI characters rather than at them.
Other than that, the leads give solid performances. Waltz is both caring and troubled, showing additional range from previous characterizations. Jennifer Connelly and Mahershala Ali are solid, although a bit underused, as antagonists. Rosa Salazar as Alita is the gem of the performances. She is alternately vulnerable and violent in perfect measures, and her emotions and movements translate through the motion capture exceptionally well.
The action, and there is a lot of it, is not overwhelming as in some films. It does have moments that it moves so quickly that it can be hard to keep up with, but never because of blurring. There is just so much happening that it is nearly impossible to see it all.
The biggest flaw the film may be its greatest strength and that is the lack of a clearly defined lead villain. Instead, we get a lot of players in a complex game that isn't over yet, even with the removal of some pieces. While the story comes to an acceptable close, it is clear that there is more to the tale, just the way Cameron likes it.
Alita: Battle Angel is a great action-adventure film, featuring a solid cast, a strong female lead, and a story that is complete on its own, but leaves plenty of blanks left to fill in a sequel.