WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Alita: Battle Angel, in theaters now.
Robert Rodriguez’s Alita: Battle Angel places the titular character in quite a few spots of bother as she learns more of her past life as a soldier, and how it’s shaping her future as a freedom fighter.
In reconnecting with mankind, Alit (Rosa Salazar) a makes enemies such as Iron City’s wicked boss, Vector (Mahershala Ali), as well as several bounty hunters known as Hunter-Warriors who bring in criminals that pose a threat to his empire. One key interaction, though, reveals itself as the film’s biggest plot hole, and leaves us wondering if there’s some sort of hidden technology Rodriguez forgot to tell us about.
As the final act unfolds, Alita is in the Motorball arena, competing in the lower leagues so she can win extra money for her and her love interest Hugo (Keean Johnson) to move up to the elite Sky City known as Zalem. She’s been moonlighting as a Hunter-Warrior herself, but unbeknownst to her, Hugo’s been secretly attacking and scrapping other robots to earn cash — all part of the initial deal he struck with Vector to send him up before he met Alita.
However, his past catches up to him as the bitter Hunter-Warrior, Zapan (Ed Skrein), catches Hugo’s former gang in the act, just as the youngster came to resign from his criminal life. It all goes awry, ending with Zapan killing both the gang and victim, just so he could frame Hugo. It turns out, Zapan hasn’t forgotten how Alita showed him up in a bar in a previous encounter, and to him, there’s no better revenge than gutting her boyfriend.
Sadly, as Alita leaves the arena and comes to Hugo’s rescue, their lives fall apart when Zapan impales him with his Damascus sword, leaving him mortally wounded. Alita blames herself, as she hesitated to arrest Hugo herself after Zapan spilled the beans on his secret life. Heartbroken, Alita grabs her boyfriend and takes him inside an abandoned building, which is where the plot comes apart at the seams.
As Alita grieves for her dying boyfriend, the sinister Chiren (Jennifer Connelly) arrives out of nowhere, empathizing with the lovers. However, there’s no way anyone could know where Hugo and Alita are, apart from Zapan of course, and he has no connection to Chiren at all. Chiren was working for Vector, helping him upgrade his own evil army of robots, but she doesn’t have the means to track the couple, as they were under the watch of her ex-husband, the genius inventor Dyson (Christoph Waltz).
Unless Chiren had some sort of magical tracking device or teleportation technology, there’s no reason she should be here at this precise moment. Hugo operated in the shadows, and Zapan only happened upon him by chance, so the chase and ensuing rescue by Alita all occurs undocumented in Iron City’s wastelands. This isn’t even an area Vector monitors, which makes it even more confusing why Chiren would appear out of the blue.
This “twist” is sadly nothing more than a cop-out done for plot convenience, a scene devised so Chiren could remember what it was like to feel love again and try to save Hugo. Making it all even more contrived, Chiren miraculously has special tools on her, which allows her to decapitate the boy and use Alita’s unique robotic heart to preserve his brain function — clearly a throwback to her pickup line about giving Hugo her heart earlier on. Alita then fakes capturing the bounty herself, taking Hugo’s head to Dyson so he could graft it onto a cybernetic body. Yeah, that’s a lot to take in, and sadly, it’s unconvincingly forced.
The deus ex machina is made even more silly by the fact that when Alita initially rescued Hugo, she disarmed Zapan and took his Damascus sword, only to drop it down at the killer’s feet. It’s when she decides to have a chat with Hugo about his seedy life, Zapan — someone who’s made it clear throughout the film he wants to kill both of them — simply takes the Damascus up, walks next to Alita, listens to their conversation about morality, and then stabs Hugo in the stomach. Alita watches it unfold and doesn’t even attempt use her agility and super-speed to save her lover.
This entire sequence unfolds in a way maximized for dramatic effect rather than coherent storytelling. It’s poorly executed, ignores Zapan’s bloodthirsty narrative, and honestly, with mistakes like that, it’s no wonder Rodriguez had to pull a miracle out of thin air to preserve the film’s big romance.
Directed by Robert Rodriguez, Alita: Battle Angel stars Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Ed Skrein, Jackie Earle Haley, Keean Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Lana Condor and Eiza González, and is in theaters now.