In a time when so many are content to watch movies at home, "Alita: Battle Angel" is a prime example of one that demands a theater - preferably on the biggest screen you can find, and in 3D. 

It is a true event movie, which is why it's so cool that this $200 million dollar epic was given to Texas-based director Robert Rodriguez - an inventive guy who made his bones making cheap shoot-em-ups, B-movie throw-backs, and the green screen masterpiece "Sin City" with some kids' movie tossed in the mix.  Now he has the backing of James Cameron, whose been trying to get "Alita" made for 20 years - an adaptation of a Japanese manga book series about a young cyborg warrior.

Alita has a human brain in a robot body and is found in the scrap heap by a cyborg surgeon, played by Christoph Waltz, who basically takes her in as a kind of adoptive daughter as she tries to remember who she was. They're both surprised when her instincts start to kick in - literally.

Rodriguez is an expert at world building, and this Iron City feels palpable and lived in. But of all the many visual effects, the most impressive is Alita herself - a motion capture performance by Rosa Salazar. This computer animated character looks soulful - as human as any I've seen with Salazar's warmly emotional performance rendered convincingly.

It helps that this CGI character is surrounded by Oscar winners including Waltz, Mahershala Ali, Jennifer Connolly and nominee Jackie Earl Haley. 

But all the great actors, wow-worthy special effects, and killer action can't distract from a plot that's silly, overstuffed, meandering and repetitive. The script co-written by Cameron also features some clunky dialogue, most noticeable in the love story. You can tell this is the guy who wrote "Titanic."

Despite being kind of a mess, I really like this movie, and I even love parts of it. "Alita: Battle Angel" has a sci-fi sensibilities and a Western swagger. I'm here for the sequel that's probably not coming.

EPPLER'S RATING: * * * 1/2


* * * * * Incredible - One of the best of the year
* * * * Excellent - Touches greatness with only minor quibbles
* * * Good - Plenty to like, definitely worth seeing
* * Mediocre - You can do better
* Awful  - The worst, an insult to movies