MOVIE REVIEW: Alita: Battle Angel is pure superhero popcorn
ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL
Director Robert Rodriguez
Starring Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Mahershala Ali
Running time 122 minutes
Verdict The devil is in the detail
Frankenstein's monster was big, ugly and ambiguous enough to inspire two centuries' worth of literary debate and dozens of films. Three-hundred-year-old cyborg Alita has the mind of a teenage girl, the idealised body of a gym junkie, and the eyes of a doe.
She's barely complex enough to sustain a tub of popcorn.
Is this really the best James Cameron and Robert Rodriguez can come up with; the super-cyborg protagonist they want to spend their $US200 million and groundbreaking visual effects on? No wonder female directors are bashing at the laboratory doors.
There's a telling scene, perhaps half way through the action fantasy, where Alita (Rosa Salazar) is reunited with her rightful body, which then reshapes itself to her subconscious image of herself.
Granted, she's a warrior from another planet skilled at a specialist form of martial arts known as, wait for it, Panzer Kunst (there's an anatomical joke in there somewhere).
But since Christoph Waltz's paternalistic Dr Ido has already informed us that Alita has the mind of a fairly typical young woman, the sensational body she then conjures up for herself directly contradicts the entire body research into female self-image.
Even elite URM (United Republic of Mars) soldiers, it seems, aren't immune to the male gaze.
Such a reading might be considered a little harsh, given the character's Manga roots - action girls with pure hearts and large, limpid peepers are an anime staple.
But what about Alita's emotional dependence on
bad boy Hugo (Keean Johnson), who almost literally steals her heart?
And if wish fulfilment were removed from the equation, why would Jennifer Connelly's ruthless, ambitious scientist wear a black bodysuit and suspenders for a business meeting with her boss?
Alongside Alita: Battle Angel, Ghost In The Shell feels like War And Peace.
That's not to say this blend of CGI and live action fantasy doesn't offer two hours of passable escapism into a handsomely-realised 3D cyberpunk dystopia, hundreds of years in the future, where there's a thriving black market in prosthetic body parts.
Salazar's motion capture performance is wonderfully empathetic. The action sequences are so well choreographed, there are times when you don't fully register the clunkiness of the script.
And there's a richly-drawn parade of cyber baddies - from Ed Skrein's pretty-boy bounty hunter to Jackie Earle Haley's lumbering behemoth Grewishka. Mahershala Ali brings his customary charisma to the human villain Vector.
But if the animation and visual effects are state of the art, the dialogue predates the industrial age. At one point, Hugo jokes lamely to Alita that some men might be intimidated by a woman as powerful as her.
Puh-lease! Only in Cameron and Rodriguez's parallel universe. This female superhero isn't going to threaten anybody.