WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Alita: Battle Angel, in theaters now.
Alita: Battle Angel adapts Yukito Kishiro’s manga phenomenon Gunnm, with director Robert Rodriguez bringing to life the story of Alita (Rosa Salazar), a robot who is reactivated by Christoph Waltz’s Dr. Dyson Ido in post-apocalyptic Iron City, which leads to her piecing together memories from her old war-torn life.
Eventually, Alita reconnects with humanity through Dyson, who acts as a father figure, and Hugo (Keean Johnson), her shady, scrapper love interest. Sadly, the movie’s finale sees Hugo head off to the elite sky city, Zalem, while Alita sets off on a collision course with her destiny as a liberator of the oppressed.
The Ballad of Hugo
Deeply in love with Hugo, Alita promises to help him reach Zalem. The film’s final act pits Alita against the lower leagues of the Motorball arena as she tries to earn extra credits, so they can pay pay the man who runs Iron City, Vector (Mahershala Ali), to send them up.
But Hugo runs afoul of the bounty hunter Zapan (Ed Skrein), who stabs him with his Damascus sword, leaving the young man to die. Luckily, Dyson’s ex-wife, Chiren (Jennifer Connelly), is on hand, and decides to save Hugo by using her surgical technology to decapitate him — a procedure that preserves brain activity even in the absence of a body. It’s part of their plan to trick the police into thinking Alita is collecting the bounty on Hugo herself.
After taking down Zapan, Alita rushes off to Dyson’s lab, where he attaches Hugo’s head onto a cybernetic body, making him more machine than man. Recognizing that won’t sit well with Vector, who’s been hunting her throughout the movie, Alita heads to his headquarters at the Factory to take him out once and for all.
The True “Ascension” to Zalem
Finally embracing her Berserker armor, Alita cuts a path through the mech warriors known as Centurions and the other law enforcement that Vector (who’s basically Iron City’s mayor) throws in her path. Even Jackie Earle Haley’s Grewishka, a mammoth ‘bot with cybernetic arms, isn’t a match for her, as Alita slices him in half.
Fighting for survival, Vector tries to negotiate a way out, but all Alita seeks is the truth behind Zalem and Iron City, and why so many people yearn to head topside. Vector reveals the utopia it presents is simply too irresistible, which is why Chiren defected to his side in the first place. She wanted to head back there after she and Dyson were exile, and lost their terminally ill daughter in a robbery.
However, the sick twist is that the ascension is really a form of death. Vector shows Chiren’s dissected body to Alita, as he was angry she saved Hugo and, more so, helped Alita to escape. After all, Vector wanted Alita’s heart — an antimatter micro-reactor — so he felt this was fitting retribution for Chiren’s insubordination. He reveals Chiren’s body parts and her preserved brain will be used by the man who’s actually running the show in Zalem, Nova.
Alita’s Reshaped By Death
Angry at Chiren’s fate, Alita impales Vector, only for the dying villain to tender a warning through Nova. Throughout the film, we see glimpses of Edward Norton’s mysterious technopath villain, possessing robots and relaying messages, but also acting as some sort of demon, taking over human bodies, too. He tries to discourage Alita from hunting him, but she swears justice one way or the other.
Her victory is short-lived, however, as she’s informed Hugo is climbing a connecting tube to Zalem. Alita rushes to stop him, reliving the attack 300 years ago that resulted in the death of her entire battalion. It turns out their mission was to bring down the sky cty, only for the Death Rings (giant buzz saws) to come down, slice them up and leave Alita as the sole survivor in the scrap heap Dyson first found her.
She begs Hugo to return with her to Iron City, but it’s too little, too late, as a ring takes him out. Alita tries to hold onto his dismembered body, but, sadly, he falls to his death. That leads to a reborn Alita months later, now a star in the Champions League of Motorball, backed by the entire city as she’s looking to claim the MVP title that will grant her a trip to Zalem. The final scene shows her in a staredown with Nova, holding the Damascus toward him, signalling she’s intent on revenge.
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.