WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Alita: Battle Angel, in theaters now.
One of the main things producer James Cameron wanted to keep in his adaptation of Yukito Kishiro's manga Gunnm was that Alita's eyes remain big, similar to the source material.
Cameron felt this would help separate her from the other many robots in the film, but it also stayed true to the distinctive essence of the character in the original lore. And despite fans' initial concerns, the CGI works relatively well, with Alita's eyes proving not to be an issue... well, apart from one very critical scene in Alita: Battle Angel.
Director Robert Rodriguez and his team certainly pulled off a technical spectacle in the film with Rosa Salazar as Alita. Using new technology, Cameron was able to make Alita's eyes feel natural, and truly differentiate her in a war-torn world where the citizens in the slums of Iron City aspire to make it to the Sky City, Zalem. But in this tale of Zalem's truly oppressive ways, Alita's eyes make it feel like she jumped right out of the manga pages. But while the character's overall look would have silenced naysayers, there is a key development where Alita's eyes don't sync up with the narrative.
This occurs when Alita's love interest, Hugo (Keean Johnson), tries to escape from the vindictive bounty hunter, Zapan (Ed Skrein). Things go awry, which leads to the villain stabbing Hugo in the gut with his Damascus sword. As Hugo suffers through this mortal wound, Alita secrets him away to a warehouse, thinking he's in his final moments. But as they enter into an emotional exchange, with her begging him to stay alive, the scene feels at odds with the aesthetic of Alita's face.
Her facial expressions stand out organically when she's smiling and especially when she's angry, but as she tries to convey pain, fear and sadness, the end result is something ranging from ridiculous to scary. In this case, it makes the scene in question fall flat rather than being emotionally resonant.
What made this moment jump out is that Alita is happy or angry for most of the film, making this tonal shift seem jarring. Of course, there's a lot more action right after this moment, so you don't get to spend much time dwelling on how out of place Alita's eyes look. It still may take some audience members out of the story, if only aesthetically.
The boy is eventually saved thanks to the surgeon Chiren (Jennifer Connelly) and retrofitted with a robotic suit of his own, but sadly, Hugo would end up dying a second time, falling from a connector tube to Zalem to the ground of Iron City. But rather than repeat the offence, thankfully, Rodriguez doesn't linger too much on Alita crying once more. He quickly fades to the future where she's ready for revenge, sparing us the pain of seeing her eyes in grief once more.
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.