“Sin City” director Robert Rodriguez’s manga-inspired, post-apocalyptic, science fiction,  cyberpunk, origin epic “Alita: Battle Angel” (*** OUT OF ****) is a spectacular, but predictable fantasy extravaganza set in the dystopian future of the 26th century.  The action unfolds in the year 2563, after an Armageddon referred to as “The Fall,” otherwise known as “The Great War,” has devastated Earth. The eponymous heroine is a formidable cyborg warrioress, abandoned to rust on a scrap heap, who fears nobody and nothing.  Miraculously, Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz of “Inglourious Basterds”), a bespectacled cyberphysician, rescues her remains, and then revives this 300-year old combatant.

Like Rodriguez’s previous, mature-themed, actioneers “El Mariachi” (1992), “Desperado” (1995), “From Dusk Till Dawn” (1996), “The Faculty” (1998), “Once Upon A Time in Mexico” (2003), “Planet Terror” (2007), “Machete” (2010), “Machete Kills” (2013), and “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” (2014), “Alita: Battle Angel” qualifies as a triumph of style over substance.  Each of these B-movies is the equivalent of cinematic junk food.  Fast-paced, outlandish, but diverting nonsense, these nine guilty pleasures are ideal if you find yourself plagued by insomnia.  Rarely does Rodriquez fail to deliver.  The combat scenes in “Alita” rival those in the Keanu Reeves’ classic “The Matrix.”  James Cameron, who has helmed masterpieces, such as “The Terminator,” “Aliens,” “The Abyss,” “Titanic,” and “Avatar,” co-scripted the screenplay with “Terminator Genisys” scribe Laeta Kalogridis.

Reportedly, Cameron bought the rights to manga writer Yukito Kishiro’s “Battle Angel Alita” (1990) and then sought to direct it himself.  The success of “Avatar” and the pressure of directing four “Avatar” sequels forced Cameron to shelve Kishiro’s manga heroine.  Happily, Rodriquez stepped in and took the helm, with Cameron doing double-duty as writer & producer.  Manga fans will be pleased to learn “Alita” preserves a substantial part of Kishiro’s characters and conflict.  Of course, Rodriquez has toned down the horrific gore from the source material to avoid an R-rating.  You won’t see Grewishka sucking the brains out of his enemies as he did in the manga.

After he resurrects Alita, Ido equips her with a cyborg body which he had designed initially for his crippled but now departed daughter.  Alita awakens the next day and admires the lovely designs that adorn her new body.  Ido tells her she is 300-years old, and he explains she was a battle warrior like none other in the universe.  As in the Jason Bourne thrillers, Alita remembers nothing from her past, until she engages in combat.  Nevertheless, our heroine doesn’t know what to make of these fleeting memories, especially when she performs the ancient, martial arts, fighting technique “Panzer Kunst.”

Once she shifts into full-combat mode, Alita is not to be toyed with, despite her petite stature.  In some respects, Alita’s repeated clashes with an obnoxious, overbearing, part-human/part-cyborg colossus, Grewishka (Jackie Earl Haley of “Watchmen”), imitate the Biblical story of David & Goliath.  Alita never backs down from any fight.  Later, when she is reduced to little more than a head and torso with one arm, she refuses to capitulate to Grewishka.  By far, Alita qualifies as the most pugnacious female warrior cyborg you’ll ever see in any movie.  She can make fools of her opponents, such is her acrobatic skills and timing.  At one point, Grewishka acquires a weapon which transforms each finger of his mechanical right hand into flying chains with grappling hooks that can be deployed at supersonic speed against an unsuspecting opponent.  Indeed, Grewishka is one of Alita’s chief adversaries.

    After Alita acquires her new set of limbs and legs, she learns more about Iron City, Zalem, and Motorball.  A war has decimated Earth, and only one gigantic, airborne, saucer-shaped city out of ten has survived, and it is called Zalem.  The Earth itself resembles a sprawling wasteland, and Zalem has built a factory and farms on the land beneath it to supply and nourish its hopelessly affluent citizens.  The multi-lingual metropolis of Iron City lies beneath the shadow of Zalem, and the refugees of this holocaust have gathered from all parts of the Earth to settle beneath it to provide for the floating city.

Gigantic tubes that anchor the flying city to the terrain are designed to transport cargo to Zalem.  Literally, Zalem constitutes a heaven on Earth.  Naturally, everybody dreams of ascending to Zalem, but immigration is strictly forbidden.  Zalem has combat measures to repel any attempts to breach it.  In this respect, “Alita: Battle Angel” resembles the Matt Damon & Jodie Foster sci-fi saga “Elysium” (2013) where disenfranchised minorities struggled to enter the city orbiting Planet Earth to take advantage of its life-saving medical treatments.

Not only does “Alita” allude to “Elysium,” but it also features a sport reminiscent of “Rollerball” (1975) starring James Caan as well as the 2002 remake with Chris Klein.  In both versions of “Rollerball,” everything revolved around a futuristic sport called Rollerball, a souped-up version of roller derby, with life and death outcomes which mimicked the mass hysteria that galvanized ancient Roman audiences during their bloodthirsty gladiatorial tournaments.

Supposedly, only the greatest player in the murderous sport of Motorball has a chance to ascend to Zalem.  The harrowing Motorball scenes are among some of the most exhilarating, with a wide variety of cyborgs careening around recklessly as if they were competing in a demolition derby.  These cyborgs resemble refugees from a “Transformers” escapade.  Not only does Alita tangle with the minions of a tyrant, Vector (Mahershala Ali of “Green Book”), who supervises Motorball betting, but also with an omniscient overlord, Nova (Edward Norton), who manipulates Vector from Zalem.

Altogether, watching the above-average “Alita: Battle Angel” is a lot of fun.  When Rodriquez isn’t dazzling us with the staggering, CGI-laden, gymnastic battles, he trots out an impressive cast, including Jennifer Connelly, Ed Skrein, Rick Yune, Jeff Fahey, and Jai Courtney, with Michelle Rodriguez performing a voice-over in Alita’s memories.  Produced for a mind-blowing $170 million, “Alita: Battle Angel” concludes on a promising cliffhanger.  Whether or not a sequel ensues will depend entirely on its box office statistics. For More Of Your Favorite Movie Reviews, Check Out This Link.

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