When Battle: Los Angeles came out last week, it was several days after the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan. Which was extremely ironic considering that the first place the mysterious meteorites fell from the sky was off the coast of Japan. I went into the movie theater knowing only one thing about this movie: Michelle Rodriguez. Beyond that, not much. The main complaint I heard over the radio was that this was yet another alien invasion movie and how many version of Independence Day do we need? I ended up enjoying this movie precisely because it wasn’t an alien invasion movie but a war movie with a strong main character facing a moral dilemma that he has no choice but to resolve before the end credits roll.
Marine Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) has a reputation of getting his men killed in a recent tour in Afghanistan and wants to leave the service. Sergeants are the backbone of the military, knowing the people below them better than the officers above them do, often serving at the same rank until retiring. Not surprisingly, his commanding officer tries to talk him out of leaving. Then the alien invasion begins. Nantz is assigned as a replacement sergeant to a platoon where the men have reasons to hate him—”my brother came home in a box”—and a newly minted second lieutenant fresh out of officer school. If you have seen enough war movies, this is a recipe for a disaster.
They are flown into the war zone and make their way on foot to a police substation where a civilian distress call was sent after the area was evacuated. Moving through the fog of war (smoke, shadows and a stray dog), the men starts to doubt Nantz’s ability to lead them after the second lieutenant freaks out in the middle of a running battle with the aliens. They find the civilians inside the substation, dissect a live alien to figure out how to kill them (a war crime under the Geneva Conventions), and use a bus to get everyone out of the way. When it became obvious that the aliens can track down radio signals, he uses his radio to lure an alien to a gas station and toss a grenade to blast the alien sky high. Attitudes start changing towards him as he leads the survivors through various fights and struggle to overcome obstacles. He ends up leading them against an alien command-and-control center that changes the direction of the battle.
Michelle Rodriguez plays a surprisingly minor and quite feminine role in this movie.
Air Force Technical Sergeant Elena Santos was on a intelligence reconnaissance mission when her airplane is shot down, and she hooks up with a different group of Marines heading towards the police station. She comes across as being very low key soldier unfamiliar with being in an actual war zone and working with a different branch of the military. The kick-ass tough girl from Avatar and other movies doesn’t really come out to play, although she does pound away on an alien that tried to sneak up behind her. She, like the staff sergeant before her, had to prove her worth before being taken seriously by the other guys. When two men take up position to fire upon the aliens, she grabs a machine gun and wiggles her way between them, saying that they needed an extra gun in this fight. Eventually, through her own small heroic actions, she gains their trust to be treated like one of the guys.
I think the real reason why she is in this movie is probably to be the butt of a sex joke. After she blows out the brains of an alien that landed on the hood of the truck, she complains about the nasty stuff getting splattered into her mouth. The Marine next to her starts cracking up and tells her, “Isn’t that what you do on your first date?” I can’t see either Sigourney Weaver or Angelina Jolie playing a similar scene with her spunk (yes, British pun intended).
Why does the aliens invade Earth? Apparently, they need salt water to survive.
Not the most original premise for a science fiction plot, but the internal logic about the aliens and their technology being based on salt water is fairly consistent. The aliens look and behave like the Predator alien shoved into a metallic crab shell, hunting along the rooftops and going to ground only when they have to. Their ships can be reconfigured to join other machines to form a larger vessel. They blend in well with the chaotic Los Angeles (filmed mostly in Louisiana against generic locations) that is burning down to the ground as a part of a larger worldwide alien invasion. And, more importantly, there is no Mac laptop with an upside down Apple logo uploading data to the mothership. What brings down the alien command-and-control ship are laser-guided cruise missiles.
Overall, a very intense war movie with a nice solid science fiction background and a fine supporting case.