MILD spoilers ahead for Alita: Battle Angel
Alita: Battle Angel brings Alita's big eyes to life in stunning fashion, making them look incredibly believable, but the movie fails to compellingly explain why her android body conforms to a sexualized "ideal" body type. Robert Rodriguez's Alita: Battle Angel adapts Yukito Kishiro's Battle Angel Alita manga for the big screen, bringing this character to live-action using CGI to transform actress Rosa Salazar into the hero. Alita: Battle Angel works as an origin story for Alita, with then android's core being salvaged by Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz). Alita spends much of the movie attempting to discover who she was and forging a path for the person she wants to be.
During the first two acts of Battle Angel, Alita utilizes the body that Ido created for his sickly daughter before she was murdered. In the second act, Alita discovers an android warrior's body on a ship belonging to the United Republics of Mars (URM) and feels a connection to it. After her battle against Grewishka (Jackie Earle Haley), in which the body created by Ido is destroyed, he attaches her to the URM tech body. It's here that Alita finally becomes the character from the manga, sexualized adult body and all, but the explanation the movie gives for why she looks that way is eye-rollingly bad.
Ostensibly, Alita: Battle Angel depicts Alita with big eyes and a sexualized "ideal" type of body because that's how the character looks in the manga. We can presume the movie didn't want to reimagine or redesign the character in any way, and the filmmakers went to great lengths to bring Alita's uniquely large eyes to life. However, the movie never explicitly explains why Alita's eyes are so big. We do see in flashback that all the other URM androids had eyes like that, so it's part of their design. But Battle Angel goes to the trouble of explaining why Alita's URM body transforms from how she originally found it to a body with large breasts, a small waist and an overall thin appearance. After Ido connects Alita's core to the body, it transforms and Nurse Gerhad (Idara Victor) makes a comment that the tech is conforming to Alita's idea of how she should look.
The contrast between how the movie treats Alita's eyes, which are big just because that's the way she and the URM androids were designed, versus her body (which is given an actual, expositional explanation) implies that the filmmakers knew they'd need to explain why her body became oversexualized. The filmmakers knew they'd need to justify why Alita went from the muscular appearance of the original URM body to the sexualized feminine body it becomes in order to maintain the character's manga design - and their justification is ridiculous in its delivery.
Rather than implicitly explain Alita's body looks how it does because it's how the androids were designed (similar to why her eyes are large), Battle Angel plays it off like this is Alita's own ideal warrior body - one with sexualized proportions and seemingly very little muscle. Sure, we know Alita was likely programmed to believe that, but the way the movie depicts this scene, especially in the context of having established Alita as a free-thinking and rebellious character, having her conform to anyone else's ideal doesn't make sense. Further, it also doesn't make sense that any woman (human or cyborg) having the opportunity to transform their body into that of a warrior's would enlarge her breasts and trim her arms, waist and legs. For examples of how actual women think warrior women should look in media, just look to the redesigned She-Ra on Netflix's animated show, or the Amazonian warriors of Themyscira in Patty Jenkins' Wonder Woman.
To imply that Alita would choose a sexualized "ideal" female body type over a more practical, less sexualized one isn't just laughable, it goes against everything established about her character. She's a character who is depicted using her body to fight and isn't ever shown caring much about how it looks, but in the moment of her transformation, all that seems to be thrown out the window simply so the movie can justify making sure their main female character has a "sexy" body. It's a disservice not just to the character of Alita, but to Alita: Battle Angel's female viewers.
- Alita Battle Angel (2019) release date: Feb 14, 2019