Battle: Los Angeles is an alien invasion film full of standard tropes and cliches, with great CGI, lots of bullets and no nudity. You might think you’re not the target demo, but you are.
Aliens have taken LA. Deploy the military. An perfectly ethnically diverse squad of marines- black, hispanic, dorky white guy, woman– are lead by a frazzled white sergeant. He lost his men in a previous war, and now no one trusts him but he’s bound by duty to fight when deployed. Hua. They’re commanded by a brand new lieutenant who, of course, graduated “top of his class” but lacks the experience and smarts to be an effective leader, so he does what the narrative requires him to do in those situations: he sacrifices himself to save the squad.
It’s easy to misinterpret this as suggesting that our leaders may be dumb but they’re still honorable. False. The point is that the crony system puts undeserving incompetents in charge who, by the power structure, are preventing the real heroes/workers/academics from effectively leading us out of a crisis. But you can’t change The System, too hard to even imagine, easier to fantasize about Jack Ryaning the situation and killing off the top level. We’ll let you die with honor and dramatic music and brave last words, but for Christ’s sake, just die already and let the enlisted men get on with the real work.
And what is the real work? Fighting off an attack by aliens? Don’t be naive, man, that’s just what they want you to think.
This is what an old white guy critic at The Australian wrote:
Watching this nonsense after seeing tragic television images of the destruction of Japan somehow made Battle: Los Angeles appear even more meretricious.
I had to look up meretricious, it means 1. like a prostitute which makes no sense; 2. tastelessly showy which is what he meant but is wrong; 3. based on pretense; deceptively pleasing which he didn’t mean but is exactly right.
This movie is Independence Day without the humor, charisma, or character actors, which is fine, I went there to see aliens getting blown up and only possibly a boob, and it delivered. But unlike Independence Day, the aliens aren’t defeated at the end of the movie. Hmm. That’s weird. Only the battle in Los Angeles has been won, the aliens still have the rest of the world, and while the Marines cheer, “now we know how to defeat them!” the newly discovered strategy isn’t a modified flu virus or water but, basically, to shoot the alien command centers with surface to air missiles. That’s the kind of out of the box thinking you don’t get with an entrenched officer class.
So when the movie ends, the humans haven’t won the war, just this battle. But that’s okay, because while the aliens seem to be the bad guys, in terms of the story’s structure they aren’t the antagonists but a macguffin. Geeks will complain that you never really get to see the aliens, but that’s the point– they could have been anything. Aliens, tsunamis, plagues, World Wars– give us any reason to join together and put aside the petty things like Egypt that have given us all anxiety neuroses. What the aliens represent is the deus ex machina solution to our other geopolitical, economic, moral and existential catastrophes.
You think when the aliens invade anyone will bother with make up or shave their back or diversify their portfolio or Rock The Vote? The only thing that will gets us away from obsessing over our individuality is a catastrophe bigger than all of us. The aliens are the solution to narcissism. I’ve watched the movie twice, but I can’t tell you the name of one single character except Hector, who is not the main character but a boy that the story uses only as an metaphor for vulnerability and sadness, which used to be the damsel’s role but nowadays sexy women are needed to stay strong and save us. No 40 year old man still believes a man can suddenly know kung fu when the time comes, but women are sufficiently inexplicable and archetypal that they might, so long as they’re young and wearing black lycra.
But Hector’s name is repeated over and over and over, he’s the focus, they’re not fighting to kill aliens but to save him. The boy is powerless, the boy is us. And what will get us to save us is something else wanting to kill us.
But don’t worry, as superior and advanced as aliens are, we’re still above them. The aliens are humanoid upright bipeds with a heart, two arms, and portable wave motion guns. But the medic is completely baffled by their their anatomy, the only one who can make sense of it is a hot veterinarian. Ergo: they’re animals.
That Los Angeles is the important battle is no accident. The battle for the ability to unite as a common species will be, is being, fought in LA. They control the horizontal and the vertical and the CGI and the page 60 plot twist, and they decide the kinds of qualities we will assume exist in all of us.
I had just seen The Adjustment Bureau the day before, and both movies offered an impossibly optimistic view of the universe, and it brought to my mind one of the few poems I like:
And now, what’s going to happen to us without the aliens? They were, those aliens, a kind of a solution.
And so, we continue to wait.
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