In the dystopian world of Alita: Battle Angel, many humans, either by choice or from need, replace body parts with cybernetic implants. Those range from replacement limbs for utilitarian purposes to entire, superhuman bodies.
Opinions about cybernetic enhancements also vary wildly, with some of the population admiring their possibilities and others viewing cyborgs as less than human. All of that plays into how the movie wrestles with the nature of identity, so when CBR sat down with the cast and crew of the sci-fi epic, we asked them about what enhancements they’d choose, if offered the opportunity.
Star Rosa Salazar, the face and body behind the motion-capture creation that is Alita, had a definitive answer.
“Number one, I’d get a new thyroid,” she told CBR with a laugh. “Right away, because women, I think it’s like 30 percent of women in the U.S. have some kind of thyroid disorder, I have hyperthyroidism. And it’s like your second brain. Alita has a human brain, but your thyroid regulates a lot in your body – I didn’t even know where it was, when I went in to [see] my doctor. I also don’t have a sense of smell, I’m anosmic. So I would get that installed, as well. I would do a few upgrades.”
Eyes were a popular spot for enhancement, with Salazar's co-stars Keean Johnson (Hugo), Jorge Lendeborg Jr. (Tanji) and Lana Condor (Koyomi), as well as director Robert Rodriguez and producer Jon Landau, agreeing that cyber-sight would be something they’d invest in, if perhaps for different reasons.
“I’d like to see incredibly far, I think that’d be interesting,” Johnson said, while Landau and Rodriguez cited age. “Eyes are something that change over time,” Landau pointed out, and Rodriguez agreed: “Same for me: My eyesight’s starting to go, so I’d want cyborg eyes.”
Jennifer Connelly, who plays the conflicted engineer Chiren, was attracted to a bigger-picture overhaul, if only for the strength.
“Alita’s body, actually both bodies are pretty extraordinary,” she said. “I don’t know that I’d want them … but that’s pretty extraordinary. I mean come on, being able to stand on, put all your weight on one finger, that’s pretty epic.” She’s referencing a key scene in the film in which Alita uses the considerable strength she has in one finger in a fight against Jackie Earle Haley’s giant cyborg villain Grewishka. You’ll know it when you see it.
Interestingly, actors Ed Skrein and Christoph Waltz, who portray characters diametrically opposed morally both showed early forbearance when asked how they’d enhance themselves, or whether they would. Skrein was interested in the possibility, but also expressed some fear at the prospect of human advancement into the realm.
“I think that the scary thing about all of these technological advancements is the inevitability of it," Skrein said. "And the inevitability of human nature that we can’t stop ourselves and we won’t be able to stop ourselves. I don’t like the idea of changing anything! Like I just want to grow old and wrinkly, gracefully or ungracefully as it may be. But like keep everything normal, so I would like to say to you no, I won’t do anything I would just leave myself how I am. But I know that is B.S.! If it came out and I could get a really cool arm that could just like -- or legs that could make me jump 20 foot tall or fly or go underwater 30 miles an hour, I’m doing that! So, it’s kind of scary and exciting in that regard.”
Waltz plays the kindly engineer who rebuilds Alita after finding her in a garbage heap, and tends to the other cybernetic citizens of Iron City as a sort of doctor/mechanic. He offers his services for free, generally, and supplements his income with a side hustle at night like the rest of us. On its face, his answer was one of the most surprising, but less so when you consider the compassion that permeates Edo’s character.
“I’m sorry to repeat myself,” he said, “but I have a standard answer … but it’s a serious answer and since yours is a serious question I feel it’s adequate: That question you have to ask someone who stepped on a land mine. Not me, I don’t need it right now, thankfully. Making a choice without necessity is sometimes luxury, usually stupid.”
It’s difficult not to take such sage advice, but it’s probably harder to watch Alita and not daydream about what it would be like to be able to replace your feet with wheels the next time you’re running late.
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. The film is in theaters now.