The way USA movie censorship works requires the MPAA to use twists and turns to get movies released–and it is weird.
Movies can get the PG-13 rating, which means anyone can see a film but parents are advised it's suitable for 13-years-old and up, allows a movie to use the F-word once. Which means you get films, such as the X-Men movies of late, using it once and crafting hilarity from it. We're talking Logan's line, to Magneto and Professor X in First Class, later reprised in Apocalypse.
Just because you can, doesn't mean you should. But apparently, sometimes you must.
Its use from the lead character just once in the movie is at a central moment of catharsis. Unlike the mutant movies, it isn't used for humor, but for an expression of anger and threat at a moment of severe peril and danger.
However, it feels utterly at odds with the character as seen previously and afterward. This is not a character who uses any other vulgar language in the entire movie–indeed hardly anyone does. It's not that kind of movie, which preserves the feel-good amongst the dark.
But here's the thing, the movie would probably have received a PG rating in the US without it. For marketing this kind of movie, that is considered a "kiss of death".
It's just weird. It sticks out. It makes me annoyed how this kind of arbitrary ruling can affect such a film to its detriment.
You can get away with more in the UK version, 12A, depending on the context. The BBFC kept a 12A for The King's Speech for "strong language in a speech therapy context" while the MPAA had to give it an R rating–a cut version that removed three of the Fs got it a 12A. In that film, he felt utterly natural and part of the story and character.
In Alita: Battle Angel, it doesn't feel natural and doesn't even get the humor that it gave X-Men. It's the only reason I'd be wary about taking my 10-year-old to see the film, though no doubt she hears it all the time on the school playground.
Man, I've turned into such a prude in my old age.
Alita: Battle Angel opens in theaters on February 14th, 2019.