“ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL” — 2½ stars — Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali; PG-13 (violence and profanity); running time: 122 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY — “Alita: Battle Angel” feels like a futuristic, sci-fi “Bourne Supremacy” that swaps out Matt Damon for a teen cyborg.
“A Tale of Two Cities” also springs to mind, as the film takes place in the year 2563 — three centuries after something called “The Fall” — when Earth’s survivors have been divided into two factions.
Based on Yukito Kishiro’s manga series “Gunnm” and directed by Robert Rodriguez — the man behind “Sin City” and “Machete” — “Alita” is a fun concept with some stunning visuals. Unfortunately, it gets a little too bloated by its stretched-out finale, and it might be a little too audience-specific for its own good.
In “Alita,” the underclass live in a bombed-out hellscape called Iron City, which looks like a cross between the landscapes of “Blade Runner” and “WALL-E.” Most members of the population have replaced at least one limb with a bionic appendage (and not always out of necessity), and the primary entertainment is a kind of futuristic roller derby called Motorball.
High above Iron City, the vast floating community of Zalem houses the wealthy and provides a constant reminder of how lousy life is on the ground. To add metaphoric insult to injury, Zalem literally dumps its garbage on Iron City daily.
The trash dumps are how a scavenging cybersurgeon named Ido (Christoph Waltz) finds enough spare parts to assemble a cyborg named Alita (Rosa Salazar), who looks and acts like a teenage girl but seems to have some kind of 300-year-old assassin skills hidden deep in her memory.
We follow Alita’s journey to realize her true identity, which involves conflict with the folks up in Zalem and its mysterious leader Nova, who can project his consciousness through various underlings down on the surface.
Along the way, Alita meets up with Hugo (Keean Johnson), a shady streetwise scavenger-turned-cyborg-human love interest; encounters Ido’s ex-wife and ex-Zalem resident Chiren (Jennifer Connelly), who not-so-secretly wants to return home and reclaim her lost status; and gets involved with the Motorball scene.
If that weren't enough to keep track of, Alita also gets involved with the hunter warriors, a group of bionic-enhanced bounty hunters who provide some semblance of law and order in Iron City and seem to be her best option for forming a resistance to Nova. But this plot gets lost in the mashup with everything else and leads to “Alita’s” biggest problem.
In the translation from graphic novel to movie, Rodriguez, who co-wrote the screenplay, just tries to do too much. Although "Alita's" individual parts are very interesting and engaging — and really incredible to look at — the film just gets too convoluted to keep everything together.
It also struggles to straddle different audience demographics. On the one hand, the action-packed story with a young protagonist feels like it would appeal to younger audiences, but some harsh violence and a particularly unexpected use of the F-word suggest “Alita” is wanting to appeal to a much older audience. In short, the ambitious “Alita” feels custom-made for adult fans of the graphic novel — a narrow segment that is not enough to justify the film's expense.
It’s too bad, because on a visual level, “Alita” is a fantastic blend of live-action and CGI. But like last year’s “Mortal Engines,” the film wastes some incredible work in the computer on a lack of focus in the script.
Rating explained: “Alita: Battle Angel” mostly draws its PG-13 rating for considerable CGI-driven action violence and some creepy effects, as well as some profanity (including a single use of the F-word) and mild suggestive content.