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Mixed message: 'Alita: Battle Angel' is thrilling at times, underwhelming at others

Rosa Salazar stars as Alita in Twentieth Century Fox’s ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL. (Photo: Twentieth Century Fox)

“Alita: Battle Angel”
3 out of 5 Stars
Robert Rodriguez
Writers: James Cameron, Laeta Kalogridis, Robert Rodriguez, Yukito Kishiro (graphic novel series)
Starring: Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly
Genre: Action, Sci-Fi
Rated: PG-13 for sci-fi violence, language

SALT LAKE CITY (KUTV) – Synopsis: Cybermedic Dr. Dyson Ido uncovers the head and chest of android while scrounging through a garbage dump for spare parts. Resuscitated, the android wakes without any memory of who she is or what purpose she originally served.

Review: Yukito Kishiro's "Gunnm" manga series was something I was always interested in, but never found the right time to dive into. "Alita: Battle Angel" has convinced me that I need to sit down with the source material.

Set in the distant future, "Alita: Battle Angel" takes place in a rusted Earth where the remaining human population has gathered in the melting pot of Iron City. High above them dangles Zalem, last of the great floating cities and home to the upper class who, quite literally, look down upon those below them.

I love the general aesthetic of the film, a future where technology has flourished in some areas, but has stalled in others. Iron City feels more akin to a New York City burrow than an opulent and high-tech metropolis. It's dirty and worn, as are its citizens. I'm fond of Alita as a character. She's naive and prone to making mistakes, but she isn't helpless and in constant need of saving. She's a hero in the making, warts and all.

My major problem with the film is that everything feels rushed. The relationships outside of Ido (Christoph Waltz) and Alita (Rosa Salazar) feel rushed. Mahershala Ali and Jennifer Connelly feel underutilized. there just not enough story dedicated to them to make their characters feel like anything more than slaves to the narrative. The romance between Alita and Hugo (Keean Johnson) is problematic on several levels.

James Cameron, who co-wrote the script and had wanted to direct the project before the Avatar franchise stole away his attention, has said that "Alita: Battle Angel" is pulled from the first four volumes of the "Gunnm" series and the two animated programs that were based on the first two volumes, but also included additional material not in the print version of the story. Rather than rushing through that much material, the story would have been better served if the character relationships were given more time to develop naturally. Give Hugo some depth and his actions might have a real impact.

You don't have enough room to tell the entire story in one push, so why not make sure the part of the story you are telling is well told? As it is, there are numerous moments that feel like false endings. By the time we get to the film's actual conclusion, its incredibly anticlimactic. You could argue it is the calm before the second storm, but it feels disjointed and stapled on. Yes, there's a big actor reveal, but it is met with a shrug, not a cheer.

"Alita: Battle Angel" is thrilling at times, frustratingly simplistic at others as it runs from one action sequence to the next. It works as a popcorn distraction, but it clearly had more potential than the finished product delivers.