Alita:  Battle Angel

 

            Two hundred years from now, Mars will invade, and the all-out war leaves Earth nothing but urban rubble and some hardscrabble survivors.  Fast forward another three hundred years.  The dystopian future has hardened into rigorous social order.  There's only one “nice” place to live, suspended above everyone else.  Down below, “in the poorer quarters, where the ragged people go,”

a melting pot of teeming humanity is preyed upon by merciless cyborgs.  Good robot parts are hard to find, so the black market thrives on amputated robotic limbs.  It's a gruesome existence.  But there's at least one good man, Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz), who is in the business of healing humans, and constructing robotic limbs to help them.  But even he has a darker side---a Mr. Hyde-type persona who goes out into the night, staying in the shadows, hunting down criminals as a bounty hunter.  Supposedly so he can fund his “good” projects by day.  But everything changes when he discovers, in a junk yard, the remnants of one of the Mars invaders, that utilizes technology nobody can now duplicate.

            In his “Dr.Jekyll” mode, Dr. Ido tries to bring “Alita” (Rosa Salazar) to life, but with her memory erased, she has no idea who she is.  She tends to think of herself as a late adolescent, so Dr. Ido tells her that she has a chance to start with a clean slate.  She finds out she likes oranges.  And chocolate.  She begins seeing a local boy, Hugo (Keean Johnson), but alas, he's not what he appears to be, either.  He introduces Alita to a rough type of roller-blade game, and she takes to it immediately.  She revels in its physicality.  Though she's so skinny as to look frail, and doesn't have any memory of having had any combat training, she soon finds out that she's very good in a fight, which itself springs some memory in her, as a warrior.

            Hugo learns that he can fall in love with a cyborg, and Alita learns that her tears are real, and so are her emotions.  But the rough streets of the underworld soon intrude on our happy couple.  And it seems that it's not just street thugs, there's a systematic conspiracy.  Chrien (Jennifer Connelly), having succumbed to the Dark Side, still has enough goodness left in her to leave Hugo and Alita alone, but Vector (Mahershala Ali) goes after them with a relentless vengeance.  It's just that he, too, is more than he appears to be---he's a projection that his “real” persona hides behind.

            Does it all sound a little too much like fanciful sci-fi for you?  Well, you're probably not the target audience.  Think adolescents, who easily accept a chaotic future with a lot of technology, but don't necessarily need the details to all make sense.  The technology of making this film is impressive in itself.  The story line is not exactly optimistic, but it is engaging, and at times even a bit wistful.  We wouldn't expect anything less from screenplay by James Cameron, who gave us Terminator, Titanic, and Avatar.  Maybe love doesn't conquer all.  But it can certainly instill some hope in a dark circumstance.

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association