**1/2 (out of four)
Based on a popular manga series, Alita: Battle Angel boasts some impressive visuals but is lacking in the storytelling department.
Directed by Robert Rodriguez (Sin City, Desperado) and with a script co-written by Rodriguez and legendary action director James Cameron (The Terminator, Aliens), Alita: Battle Angel tells the story of a deactivated cyborg (a VFX voiced by Rosa Salazar) who is put back together again by a doctor (Christoph Waltz). She does not remember her past, but before long, she discovers she has amazing fighting skills.
The plotting will be familiar to anyone who has seen dystopian sci-fi. There is an elite class in a floating spaceship city ruling over the working class, who is struggling over scraps below. Alita is drawn to both a popular bloodsport (reminiscent of Rollerball) and pursued by bounty hunters working on behalf of the sinister Vector (Mahershala Ali).
Much like the film’s main character, Alita: Battle Angel’s story seems cobbled together from previous films. It also suffers from the same problem lots of big-budget spectacles have these days: It clearly wants to be a multi-film franchise. As a result, it fails to work as a stand-alone film. It’s overstuffed and feels unresolved at the end.
However, Rodriguez is a good director of action scenes and it shows here. Two scenes—one where Alita fights off a bar full of bounty hunters and another where she plays the aforementioned bloodsport with every other competitor united against her—crackle with energy. The 3D visuals work pretty well here, too.
But at the end of the day, Alita: Battle Angel is a mixed bag. There’s enough diverting action to keep it from being a total loss, but there’s not enough heft in its story to make it memorable.