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Alita: Battle Angel

Adapted from Yukito Kishiro's acclaimed manga series, Alita: Battle Angel is a futuristic action adventure directed by Robert Rodriguez, which sacrifices emotional storytelling at the altar of dizzying special effects. The title character - a female cyborg with fractured memories of her shadowy past - is realised in haphazard strokes by state-of-the-art performance capture and digital effects. The fingerprints of producer James Cameron are on every Avatar-lite frame of this otherworldly origin story. His script, co-written by Laeta Kalogridis, is half-baked to familiar recipes, which tasted far sweeter when Ridley Scott was in the Blade Runner kitchen and Gary Ross was cooking up the original Hunger Games. The tug of war between spectacle and substance threatens to tear apart Rodriguez's uneven picture, which punctuates Alita's personal odyssey with turbo-charged sequences of a futuristic contact sport called Motorball, which combines a roller derby with the slam bang destruction of Robot Wars. Alita: Battle Angel is set in the mid-26th century, 300 years after a cataclysmic event known as The Fall which has rendered the surface of the Earth largely uninhabitable. The floating metropolis of Zalem is the sole human stronghold to survive the devastation. Engineered by an omnipresent despot named Nova (Ed Norton), Zalem hovers menacingly over the scrapheap of Iron City, where the poor and meek scavenge detritus that tumbles from the sky. Kindly cybersurgeon Dr Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz) discovers a discarded cyborg torso and reanimates his prize find with the assistance of Nurse Gerhad (Idara Victor). "Your very human brain was miraculously intact," Dyson informs his childlike creation, Alita (Rose Salazar), who has no memory of her former life. With guidance from her Geppetto-like protector, Alita masters control of her mechanical skeleton and falls in love with a scoundrel called Hugo (Keean Johnson). He teaches her to play Motorball, which is controlled by Nova's slippery henchman, Vector (Mahershala Ali). Alita's formidable strength and speed threaten Vector's vice-like grip on Motorball and he enlists cyborg bounty hunter Zapan (Ed Skrein) to kill the girl so her parts can be harvested by Dyson's duplicitous ex-wife, Chiren (Jennifer Connelly). She does Vector's bidding in order to gain readmission to Zalem. "I will claw my way there with my bare hands if I have to!" snarls Chiren. Alita: Battle Angel is a feast for easily pleased senses, including myriad eye-popping set pieces that ravish retinas in 3D, but it's a miserly meal for the heart and soul. With its clunky exposition and clearly signposted deaths, Rodriguez's film seldom encourages us to engage our brains during a frenetic two hours of betrayal. Future sequels are robustly teased without compelling reasons to care about the metal and mortal protagonists. Unlike Chiren, we are in no hurry to breathe the rarefied air of Zalem.