There can be an odd thing that happens when two creative giants work together. The result can diminish the great qualities of both, leaving you with just the bad. This happens when two big musicians team up for an album, I am looking at you Lou Reed and Metallica. It can also happen when two filmmakers team up. Such is the case as Robert Rodriguez and James Cameron team up for Alita: Battle Angel.
The film's dystopian vision of the future, complete with class warfare that is brought closer to an end thanks to a love story, feels like signature Cameron. He cribs from Avatar in a big way here. The oddball characters and hyper-violent action feels like Rodriguez. And yet these two elements rarely sing together in a way that isn't either predictable, corny or cool for just a fleeting second.
Visually Alita stuns. Cameron takes control of the special effects and it shows here. The performance capture by Weta is stunning and completely convincing. And yet so little of it connects on an emotional level, something Rodriguez struggles with.
Alita (Rosa Salazar) is discovered by cybersurgeon Dr. Ito (Christoph Waltz) in a garbage heap. He rebuilds her and soon begins to discover that her past is more troubled than previously imagined. She soon crosses paths with Vector (Mahershala Ali) who has aspirations to control Iron City. There are several interconnected subplots that detract from this main conflict including a silly love story and a side story about a Rollerball type sport called motorball.
The love story is where Alita: Battle Angel falls flat. Keean Johnson as Hugo is bland and uninteresting and we never get wrapped up in their human/robot romance. It is odd that here again Cameron pushes interspecies relationships. I fear that is becoming a thematic core of his. If humans aren't falling for aliens, they are falling for robots.
The eye candy is the main reason to enjoy this. Rodriguez manages to include a surprising amount of gore in this PG-13 affair. He has a knack for action and it shows here. However, the stakes aren't there to make us care. The film is as synthetic as its main character and can never earn the emotional payoffs it goes for over and over. The supporting cast is good but underutilized, Jennifer Connelly barely gets anything to do here. In the end, the film may be a landmark in visual effects but it won't be remembered in a few months.