A little too glib to be truly memorable and a little too top-heavy to be really fun, “Alita: Battle Angel” doesn’t stick the landing.
But, as you would expect from a movie produced and co-written by James Cameron, this baby does have spectacle. It’s one wild thing after another, all produced on a vast scale.
There has to be technical innovation, because Cameron can’t possibly make a film without inventing some new gizmo for our viewing pleasure. In this case, it’s a leading lady who doesn’t actually exist.
Meet digitally generated Alita, a teenage warrior assembled from cyborg spare parts. She’s given voice (and motion-performance modeling) by Rosa Salazar. In the manner of Cameron’s “Avatar” creatures, the process is so detailed that Alita comes across as an incredibly expressive character.
Her “creator” is Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz, in a rare warm ‘n fuzzy mode), although Alita’s memory bank has existed before. Her attempts to remember a past life provide the movie’s most tedious sections.
Our setting is — oh, but do we really have to describe yet another dystopian futuristic landscape? Things are overrun and rusting, there’s a floating city where everybody wants to go, and a deadly mechanized sport (sort of like Rollerball with Transformers) takes up everybody’s attention.
Alita scoots through Iron City with her super-warrior skills and befriends a likable young guy (Keean Johnson). The gender-reversals here are enjoyable, as Alita is constantly getting her pal out of trouble.
We’ve got villains, played by two Academy Award-winners: Mahershala Ali (currently waiting to get his second Oscar, for “Green Book”) and Jennifer Connelly. I couldn’t tell you what their goals are, but they must surely be nefarious.
“Alita” has so many chases and martial-arts fights and robotic smackdowns that the actual story line is difficult to distinguish. The action is well-choreographed by director Robert Rodriguez (“Sin City”), but it has a tendency to overwhelm the stuff that might make us care about the characters.
Frankly, given the hypercaffeinated imaginations of Rodriguez and Cameron, I was expecting more craziness from “Alita.” It’s a little on the safe side, as you suspect an alleged $200-million movie must be.
The filmmakers have gone all-in with their artificial heroine, giving her the giant eyes of a Japanese manga character (the story is adapted from a manga by Yukito Kishiro). I think it works — you’re always reminded that Alita is not entirely human — but the effect is undeniably odd.
A sequel is promised, given the incomplete ending and the introduction of a new character played by a well-known star, who resembles an MTV New Wave frontman circa 1982.
But will there really be sequels? “Alita” feels so lumbering and overbearing, it’s hard to believe audiences will truly be charmed by its algorithms. Human audiences, that is — the cyborgs out there should love it.
“Alita: Battle Angel” (2½ stars)
Producer James Cameron and director Robert Rodriguez team up for a manga-inspired tale of a teen cyborg warrior girl. Given the hypercaffeinated imaginations of those filmmakers, this big-budget computer-generated extravaganza ought to be crazier than it is, although the action stuff is definitely huge. The humans onscreen include Christoph Waltz, Mahershala Ali, and Jennifer Connelly.
Rating: PG-13, for violence, language
Showing: Alderwood, Alderwood Mall, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Stanwood Cinemas, Meridian, Oak Tree, Pacific Place, Seattle 10, Thornton Place, Woodinville, Cascade Mall, Oak Harbor Plaza, Blue Fox Drive-in