In a sense, American popular cinema’s addiction to futuristic movie subjects reflects our age of political correctness. Movies set in the past or the present must need a political position, no matter how peripheral, for a substantive cinematic perspective on the narrative written. But today, in a social environment that encourages conformity, film makers are reluctant to provide this. Audiences tend to be averse to movies where commitment is asked for. Naturally, film financiers too feel themselves on shaky ground when asked to support stories through a political prism.
Science fiction, on the other hand, is safe – unless, of course, you are doing dystopia that reflects our present political reality. But in a film about cyborgs in the middle of the twenty sixth century, in which the main concern of these hard wired ladies and gentlemen is not getting their artificial body parts stolen by bounty hunters, the director can spin a juvenile yarn and not bother too much about the content of the film.
In ‘Alita: Battle Angel’, cyborgs inhabit ‘Iron City’, and the humans who still live in this backward planet are either trying to poach their parts and sell them for profit, or are altruistic repair men, scientists if you will, who can restore handsome and beautiful cyborgs to their former glory. Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz), is one such cyborg surgeon. Visiting a junkyard one day, he comes across a perfect head of a teenage girl. He wraps the decapitated figure up and brings it to his laboratory. There he provides it with a torso and artificial limbs, and makes all the complicated wiring that brings her to life. She turns out to be a little charmer with large oval eyes and an innocent persona. He names her Alita (Rosa Salazar), after the daughter he has tragically lost, and whose passing he still mourns.
Alita has no memory of who she is, or how she ended up in a techno garbage dump. Till this condition exists, she is simply a delightful teenager who discovers the taste of chocolate and the fun of roller skating. She also falls in love. Her boyfriend is a human called Hugo (Keean Johnson). Oddly enough, she turns out to be more human than him, in both her thoughts and action. One day, besotted as she is, she offers him her heart. She unzips her chest, pulls out the heart shaped contraption and tells him, with all conviction, that it is now his.
They don’t make hearts like that anymore; or love for that matter. The first part of the movie that deals with relationships between cyborg and her creator-father, and cyborg and her human-lover, is well done, with lots of ambience, fast paced action and a few poignant moments, all in eye catching 3D. The second part gets into techno-babble about inter-stellar wars of the past, tells of a controller of consciousnesses called Nova, represented through Vector, who is the manager of a gladiatorial sport called ‘motorball’.
Based on Yukito Kishiro’s ‘Manga’ series, ‘Gunnm’, ‘Alita: Battle Angel’ is scripted rather poorly by James Cameron. In a large production like this, there should be several engaging smaller characters who have distinct personalities and can hold your attention on their own. Not one exists in this film. Even Dr. Dyson Ido is quite flat, and, apart from the accent and mannerisms of a Nazi doctor, provided courtesy of actor Christoph Waltz, has no memorable lines.
Above all, the film’s narrative has an incomplete, work-in-progress feel to it, and this is very risky in a high investment and high-tech feature film. Also, the ending is sudden, and has a ‘to-be-completed’ television plot style, something most unexpected from a perfectionist like James Cameron.