I needed to see something brainless this weekend, and what better than Battle: LA, this year’s official celebration of 1996’s Independence Day? Yes, it’s been fifteen years since Jeff Goldblum and a newly updated copy of Mac OS 7 saved the planet.
You’ve seen this movie before: aliens invade for some reason; brave Americans rise up and blow the motherfuckers to alien hell. The movie manages to address some of the nagging problems of this genre, to its credit. For instance, the multiracial squad of intrepid people, although led by a handsome white dude, contains multiple Negroes and Latinos, and at least one Asian. And not a one of them is a former gang banger, which is awesome. The aliens also have armor or uniforms of some sort, which solves the continuing issue of alien nudists massing up to show off their junk to a world most unwilling to view it.
The great part about the movie is that it manages to avoid the offensive stereotyping of most of its characters. The bad part is that it does it by giving them all such shitty, bland dialogue that you almost wish the token female soldier (Michelle Rodriguez, playing the same character she always does, but in uniform) would start talking about how she just wants to have babies. The film’s bold choice to provide virtually no differentiation between its characters also seems less wise once they start dying. You realize that once you strap a helmet on these people and start dousing them in grime, there’s absolutely no way to figure out who’s doing what and when; when someone gets shot, it’s just one less gun firing. One of the characters is a virgin. I have no idea if he survived or not. There was another one who was afraid of the battlefield or something. I think he died, but he might also have lived. The Asian guy definitely died somewhere in there, but I lost track. Michelle Rodriguez lives, but that’s mainly because Hollywood remains convinced she’s a bankable star.
I struggled to find a way that Battle: LA related to modern political debates. (This is where the spoilers begin, below the jump.)
The most threadbare of rationales is given for the alien invasion: they need water. Random Scientist Man explains on a somehow still-broadcasting CNN that Earth is unique among planets for its abundance of liquid water. That’s cool and all, but here’s the thing. The aliens launched a massive invasion of an entire planet, at the cost of (at least) thousands of alien lives, metric fucktons of technology and probably years upon years of planning. There are more than a handful of places in our solar system alone with potentially tons and tons of water ice available that wouldn’t involve essentially sending your entire dumbass species to a heavily armed planet to engage in a prolonged war. Essentially, we’re asked to believe that at the point a species could invent interstellar travel and a networked hive mind of assault drones large enough to take over a planet, it can’t invent a drill and room temperature.
Mars Needs Moms has a more coherent and rational plot than this movie.
Was it a “no blood for oil” allegory? Perhaps, although the aliens pretty much come, take whatever the fuck they want, and it’s only because one guy has a death wish that keeps making him trudge on that the brilliant plan to steal all the water goes awry. You see, Aaron Eckhart’s character (the main one, at that) doesn’t want to be in the Marines anymore. Now that aliens have invaded and he’s really in the Marines for the time being, he just decides to go ass-out Marine crazy. There’s an underground lair to go into at night, blind? Ooo-rah! There’s four hundred aliens with portable missile launchers down the street? Ooo-rah! We just spent twenty-four straight hours fighting but there’s more shit to shoot? Ooo-rah! Don’t even get me started on the part where they’re trying to figure out what the aliens’ weak point is, which involves what seems like ten straight minutes of stabbing an alien torso with a KA-BAR knife.
The best I can figure is that this is an extended ad for the Marines, with the tacit admission at one point in the movie (through the mouth of the Nigerian immigrant soldier) that this fight is nothing like Afghanistan. Namely in the fact that we can actually win it, and rather easily. Alien invasion movies fulfill our collective id’s need for clean, easy wars that we can win quickly and relatively painlessly, against an enemy that’s not only unremittingly evil but also so foreign to us that there’s no chance of ever humanizing them. The problem with Battle: LA is that in 2011, we’ve also dehumanized the soldiers who fight for us, turning them into nothing but a Benetton ad with lots and lots of guns.
Which, to be fair, would make for a pretty fucking awesome Benetton ad.