Any time something is brought from the page to the screen, there are going to be changes — some subtle, some major. Alita: Battle Angel started out as a magna comic first published in Japan in the 1990s, and now it’s a major motion picture directed by Robert Rodriguez and produced by James Cameron. So yeah, you could say there are a handful of changes here and there for Alita since storytelling techniques (and technology) have changed over the last 30 years. But at it’s core, the story of Alita didn't change that much.
Alita — both the comic and the movie — tells the story of a cyborg (Rosa Salazar) who wakes up in the future, and doesn’t remember past life, let alone the fact that she’s been “asleep” for roughly 300 years. She’s taken in by a robotics doctor who nurses her back to health, and also becomes her surrogate family. She spends her time trying to figure out what happened in her past, playing Motorball, and also trying to discover the secrets of the city up above the scrapyard, Tipharean.
The Alita comic is currently still an ongoing series, with hundreds of different characters and locations both here on Earth, and in space. There’s no way the movie could have crammed all of that into a concise two hours, so many elements of Alita’s overall journey aren’t present (...or are clearly being saved for an Alita sequel). But, for things that do make it into the movie, here are just some of the differences that are noticeable in the Alita movie.
In the movie, Ido (Christoph Waltz) tells a sweet story about how he named Alita after his daughter who was murdered by a violent Motorball player. It’s touching, and depressing. In the comics, though, Ido still names Alita after someone he loved very much — his cat.
Ido still has his Tipharean mark, and he also has a best friend friend
Though Ido is from the floating city Tipharean, in the movie he removes his mark (and it turns into a little twist!). In the comics, he still has it. Also in the movie, he has a nurse by his side most of the time, but in the comics he actually had a close friend named Gonzu, who runs a nearby food shack. Just like Nurse Gerhard, Gonzu helps assemble Alita’s cyborg body.
Nova, in the movie, is mysterious as hell. You might not even realize he’s played by Edward Norton until the end of the movie when he removes his futuristic glasses. Roughly everything about him is left in the dark, obviously with the intention of a sequel.
Alita’s relationship with Zapan
By the end of the movie, Alita has basically wrapped up her story with Zapan (Ed Skrien), after he wounds Hugo (Keean Johnson) and Alita tricks him into thinking that Hugo is dead (he’s not, and Zapan realizes that). In the comics, he plays a much larger role, and actually takes Ido hostage at one point (well before their confrontation over Hugo’s head). Alita still slices his face off, which is pretty badass, but he doesn’t run away after having just been defeated by a (robot) girl.
Hugo is a lesser character, but with a more important impact
Just like in the movie, Hugo is Alita’s main love interest — but has a way more in depth backstory and his reasons for trying to escape Iron City are more prominent. Also, in the comics, he and Alita are never a real ~thing~. Alita is pining for him, and he’s mostly oblivious. While he dies the same exact way as we see in the movie (after being injured by the spikes on the tubes up to Tipharean), he doesn’t profess his love to Alita before falling from the tubes. He’s still dead in the comics, so we can assume he’ll still be dead in any Alita sequels.
Alita does not kill Vector
Once Alita realizes what’s happening, and that Vector (Mahershala Ali) is never going to send Hugo to Tipharean, and after he’s taken over by Nova, Alita kills him. In the comics, Vector still dies, but it’s not by Alita’s hand — Ido kills him, because he’s trying to protect Hugo.
Lana Condor’s Koyomi is a photographer
Not so much a change, but rather something we didn’t see on screen on screen. Koyomi in the comics is a best-selling photojournalist, and it would have been cool to see Condor’s role expanded a little bit.
Alita and motorball
At the end of the movie, Ido is very encouraging of Alita’s new motorball career. He’s even made her some new armor! Things play out differently in the comics, because after Hugo dies, Alita actually runs away from home and joins the motorball league on her own. It takes her a lot longer than few months to become one of the best players and threaten Nova with a giant, blue-flaming sword.