In the world of Alita: Battle Angel, robots (or cyborgs) are commonplace. The inhabitants of Iron City regularly undergo cybernetic enhancements, and deal with “hardbodies,” i.e. through-and-through robots.
Though there’s plenty to like about Rodriguez’s latest movie — Motorball! Mahershala Ali! Mars attacks! — the best thing about the film, which is stuffed to the gills with robots, is the sheer balls-to-the-wall inventiveness that Robert Rodriguez and his team have embraced in bringing them to life.
But just as there can only be one true champion in Motorball (which should be an Olympic sport, just one woman’s opinion), there can only be one robot champion to come out of Alita: Battle Angel. We’ve rounded up the ones who made the biggest impressions here, in an objectively correctly ranked list.
[Ed. note: Spoilers for Alita: Battle Angel from here on out.]
Honorable mentions: Though he isn’t a robot or a cyborg, we have to give a shout-out to Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz), mostly because of the giant rocket hammer he wields, which makes Christoph Waltz look like he’s ready to hop into an Osamu Tezuka cartoon.
Also, shout-out to whatever’s going on with Nova, a.k.a. Edward Norton in tiny glasses and a white mullet, and the power to take control of other peoples’ bodies. This consolation prize is less to do with his powers in general and more to do with Vector’s (Mahershala Ali) consequent death scene, which should, by rights, overtake Marion Cotillard’s death scene in The Dark Knight Rises as the most ridiculous death scene of all time.
Let’s be honest: Hugo (Keean Johnson), Alita’s (Rosa Salazar) human boyfriend, is kind of a drip. We get why Alita likes him — he’s nice, he looks like the poor man’s Joseph Gordon Levitt, he introduces her to chocolate — but he’s boring. Even when it turns out that he’s been mugging robots to steal their parts, it’s like, fine, we get it. He’s complicated. Let’s get back to the robots.
Well, by the time Alita wraps up, Hugo is a robot, as Alita cuts off his head to save his life and plops it on a robo-body. Obviously, this does make him somewhat more interesting (he had his head cut off! Alita was just carrying it around like groceries!!!), but purely on an aesthetic level. He’s still pretty hapless, and gets shredded (as in literally shredded to pieces, not really physically fit) for his trouble. Next!
10. Security robots
The big boys guarding the Hunter-Warrior headquarters basically look like slightly bigger versions of Metagross and, you know what, they’re just doing their jobs.
We don’t get to know a whole lot about Gelda (an unrecognizable Michelle Rodriguez), but what we do know is that she was involved in the Moon War, which absolutely rules. She also seems to have been something of a mentor to Alita, and, between that and her punk haircut, projects the kind of “cool, sits backwards in their chair” teacher vibe that we’re totally down with. And, again, she was in a war on the moon. R.I.P. all the other Gelda/moon war flashbacks we’d get if Alita had gotten a sequel.
The thing about Nyssiana (Eiza González) is that she looks awesome, but is a little bit of a disappointment in practice. Look at her — she’s 50% Welcome to Marwen and 50% T-1000! She even gets a little Red Riding Hood schtick before revealing herself to be a killing machine.
Or rather, a theoretical killing machine. She kicks Ido around pretty easily, but he is, like Hugo, a “meat boy” (meat man?), and so that doesn’t really count for anything. Yes, Alita is invincible, but that still doesn’t make it any less disappointing when Nyssiana bites it after Alita [checks notes] slams her into a wall really hard.
Zapan’s (Ed Skrein) whole bit is that he’s handsome, which, like most of Alita, makes perfect sense in theory and gets spun into more markedly bizarre territory in practice. The thing about putting human faces on robot bodies is that it looks deeply unsettling, because it makes you start thinking way too much about faces in general. Zapan’s face is just a layer of skin over a bunch of metal. Would my face peel off like that if I tried hard enough? Where did Zapan get that face to begin with? Where do robots get their faces from? Are they real human faces or silicone or something?
Existential crisis aside, Zapan is fun, if also annoying in the same way that a little brother might be if your little brother’s sole purpose in life was to narc you out. (Joke’s on him, though, because your parents like you better.)
6. Pre-puberty Alita
Your mileage may vary when it comes to robots learning how to do human things, but Rosa Salazar sells the hell out of pretty standard fare like “I will bite into an orange like a hand fruit.” There’s also something Final Fantasy-like to the initial body that Ido gives her; there’s no real telling what it’s made out of, but it’s pretty and filigreed, and looks delicate in a way that makes it that much more rewarding when she starts kicking in peoples’ heads.
We do have a follow-up question, though: what did Ido use for her eyebrows/hair? When he finds Alita on the scrap heap, her head has nary a hair on it...
You know what, maybe we’re better off not knowing.
Most of the other Hunter-Warriors and Motorball players aren’t too distinct, which is why we’re giving Screwhead (Elle LaMont) pride of place here. Her name is Screwhead! She has a screw in her head! It’s like if Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson were actually a rock! What’s not to like? She also has four arms (cool, great, better than just two), but “Screwhead” has a better ring to it than “Four Arms.”
Jackie Earle Haley is a (relatively) small man, and Grewishka is a giant cyborg, which is a terrific dichotomy to start with. Incidentally, this scaling up means that Grewishka is the only cyborg whose face doesn’t look like it’s just been pasted on, as it looks like it’s being subsumed, instead. It works for him, though, because he’s a nonstop aggro machine, and is the only other robot besides Alita to get a noticeable glow-up before the movie’s over. Yes, the parts he’s getting upgraded with have been forcibly taken from other robots, but that’s life!
Alita also puts her entire arm through Grewishka’s eye and he’s … well, he’s not fine, but he refuses to have it taken out of his head because he can use the pain? It’s a dumb move, but it’s also great as far as “I haven’t forgotten my melodramatic manga roots” goes. Love you, Grewishka.
3. McTeague’s robot dogs
Would Alita have avoided bombing at the box office if the fact that there are robot dogs in it had been advertised more prominently? We’ll never know, but Alita has robot dogs, and they deserve recognition for being very, very good boys. When a real, flesh-and-blood dog is put into danger, the robot dogs do their level best to get vengeance, which is the kind of good, upstanding robot dog representation that’s been needed ever since Preston (of Wallace and Gromit’s A Close Shave) gave robot dogs a bad name.
2. Post-puberty Alita
There’s no real reason that Alita had to become “sexy” by the end of the movie, but consider this: Alita’s Berserker body is great. If she wasn’t invincible before, she certainly is now, as any wounds she suffers mend themselves and she goes flying around the Motorball course like a, uh, battle angel. She also now has the ability to just pull out her heart out of her chest as an “intense” romantic gesture.
The point being, her Berserker body lets her go berserk, which is exactly what the movie has been leading up to. The upgrade is like when you finally find that new armor set that’s both functional and cool to look at after having worn your starter set for so many levels, because, in the immortal words of Reno 911!:
No Robert Rodriguez movie would be complete without an appearance from Jeff Fahey, and thank God for that, because the official number one robot in Alita: Battle Angel is Fahey’s McTeague. It doesn’t matter that McTeague has, at max, three minutes of screen time. Those three minutes (or less) are more than enough to get a clear idea of exactly what he’s about, which is: dogs.
He’s a robot man with just the upper half of a human face (and yet still, somehow, a sizable amount of facial hair?) and a cowboy outfit, and he loves dogs. His one line is, “He’s not a dog lover. I hate that.” McTeague. We love him. Give him his own show.
Alita: Battle Angel is in theaters now.