Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Why Vector From Alita: Battle Angel Looks So Familiar

Alita: Battle Angel may have come out in February 2019, but this is one movie that just won't stop making waves. Thanks to director Robert Rodriguez's and the Alita Army's ongoing attempts to turn the movie into a bona fide franchise, the cool film adaptation of Yukito Kishiro's Battle Angel Alita manga continues to be as timely as ever. 

One of Alita: Battle Angel's most interesting narrative devices is the way the apparent big bad, Vector, is actually far less powerful and frightening than he initially seems, because he ultimately acts as a lackey and tool for Nova (Edward Norton), the mysterious and largely unseen figure from the sky city of Zalem. The role's combination of a ruthless, conniving Motorball boss and a possessed pawn requires some serious acting chops to pull off, but luckily, Alita: Battle Angel went to one of the best in the business — Mahershala Ali, an actor with both copious critical accolades and an evident affinity for entertaining fantasy fare. Here's why Vector from Alita: Battle Angel looks so familiar.

Mahershala Ali was Remy Danton on House of Cards

Mahershala Ali is an actor who elevates any project he appears in, and so highly esteemed that The New York Times included him on their list of greatest actors of the 21st Century. Much like his Alita: Battle Angel costar Christoph Waltz (who plays Dr. Ido), he has two Academy Awards and a number of other accolades to show for it. Ali started his acting career as Mahershalalhashbaz Ali, and between 2001 and 2012 he made his mark in several major roles in shows such as crime drama Crossing Jordan (in which he played Dr. Trey Sanders), the CBS sci-fi show The 4400 (Richard Tyler), and HBO's New Orleans-centric musical drama Treme (Anthony King). 

In 2013, Ali — by now credited with the shortened version of his name — landed one of his best-known small-screen roles, when he started his four-season House of Cards tenure as Remy Danton, lobbyist and Frank Underwood's (Kevin Spacey) chief of staff. In a 2016 interview with Deadline, Ali reflected on the character's path on the Netflix show. "Remy starts out a certain way, and over the arc of my time in these four seasons, I've seen him in some way go through a very deep emotional shift," Ali opined. "He begins to discover who he is, or at least who he wants to be." The actor also expressed satisfaction about the fact that though Remy doesn't have the easiest time toward the end of his arc, he ultimately reaches a happy end of sorts. "He gets the girl, and he's wanted to move out of politics for some time now; so as much as it was a trial by fire, or somewhat of a crucible, it's one where he leaves on his terms, to some degree."

Mahershala Ali was Cottonmouth on Luke Cage

"You like my Biggie photo?" 

Cornell 'Cottonmouth' Stokes might not have any superpowers, but that doesn't stop Mahershala Ali's Luke Cage villain from becoming one of the most magnetic and threatening antagonists in the Netflix corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe — or, arguably, the MCU in general. Though Stokes' tenure is shorter than many other baddies', the ominous nightclub owner and crime baron does his very best to prove that he has what it takes to be the king. 

Ali told Entertainment Weekly that Cottonmouth's crystal clear character arc and inherently tragic nature factored in his decision to take the role and own it. "Cottonmouth is not the person he wanted to be," the actor said. "Cottonmouth is the result of having to react to his circumstances. He had to, in some ways, take control of the situation and own his circumstances. But as a result of that, he became a person he didn't intend to become."

Interestingly, Ali has mentioned that he's not a huge comics guy, but this hasn't stopped him from returning to comic book adaptations over and over again. Apart from Cottonmouth and Vector, he has voiced Aaron "The Prowler" Davis in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. In 2021, he added yet another comic book villain in his CV by voicing Titan on Amazon Prime's Invincible. What's more, he's also set to join the MCU proper as the titular vampire hunter of the upcoming Blade reboot. 

Mahershala Ali turned in an award-worthy performance in Moonlight

In 2016, Mahershala Ali's performance as drug dealer Juan in Moonlight showed what he was all about to the parts of the world that were somehow still unaware of his sheer acting talents. The role won him the Academy Award for best actor in a supporting role in the 2017 ceremony. As CNN notes, Ali's victory was a historical one, seeing as he was the first Muslim actor to win the esteemed award. 

The episodic Moonlight focuses on three stages of the life of a young man called Chiron (played by Alex Hibbert as a child, Ashton Sanders as a teen and Trevante Rhodes as an adult), and his relationship with Kevin (Jaden Piner, Jharrel Jerome and André Holland). During the childhood stage, Juan becomes a father figure to young Chiron, and acts as a highly positive force in his life — except for the fact that he also deals drugs to Chiron's mother. As his award season accolades attest, the role is highly acclaimed. What's more, it's not even his only Oscar-worthy supporting role, seeing as in 2019 he netted another one for his turn as pianist Don Shirley in Green Book.