'Alita' battles for number one spot in box office

“Alita: Battle Angel” has had an interesting cinematic life. It was supposed to come out in August 2018 but the powers that be at 20th Century Fox delayed the release until last December, just in time for the Christmas rush, but to no avail.

The film was finally released Feb. 14 but with no big boom, degree of excitement or fanfare of any kind. Sure, “Alita: Battle Angel” opened in the No. 1 spot, but with a box office under $30 million. The $28 million-plus initial gross was less than stellar. It had one of the worst President’s Day weekends in the past 15 years

The pluses, however, outweighed the minuses in this James Cameron-produced tale directed by Robert Rodriguez. This excursion is probably the biggest-budgeted film Rodriguez has ever worked on. What works well here are the 3D visuals. Cameron, to me, is the only one who has a firm grasp on the 3D medium.

Like Cameron’s well-written Kathryn Bigelow-directed tale “Strange Days” (1995), he knows how to move the story along. That is what he did as co-writer in of “Alita: Battle Angel.”

He essentially sets up a story with the idea of further chapters.

Both Cameron and Rodriguez know where the characters and story are heading, since the dramatic scenes pause for an action set piece woven into the story at just the right degree.

Like the Luc Besson-directed “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets" (2017), “Alita: Battle Angel” landed with a giant thud accompanied with a ker-plat at the box office.

Too bad. I would have liked to see what happened to all the denizens of this futuristic society wherein a Rollerball-like game is the end all to win in this complex and intriguing tale.

Rosa Salazar exudes the right degree of naiveté as lead character Alita. She knows what she needs and wants in the world.

Aiding Alita in her journey is Christoph Waltz’s Dr. Dyson Ido, who once had a younger daughter who fell ill to the outside world around her. Also woven into the story is Jennifer Connelly’s Chiren, Ido’s ex, who still hangs around for further interaction.

Filling out the antagonist role is Mahershala Ali’s Vector, a heavy in the game for his own self-serving interests. At various stages, his eyes glisten with a bright blue hue, a character dynamic mentioned only briefly in passing.

Part of the story also involves Alita becoming a bounty hunter for hire, so she can repay the debt she feels she owes Dr. Ido. Like Joss Whedon’s awesome “Serenity” (2005), the nomenclature and dialogue includes word phrases that become commonplace later on.

When it comes down to it, this one is a must-see for the big screen. “Alita: Battle Angel” contains 3D visuals that work within the structure of the story, so the extra money for the upgrade is worth it.

Grade: B-