Besides the occasional “ooh-rah,” the boys of the United States Marine Corps called to defend Los Angeles from alien invasion in “Battle: Los Angeles” have one mantra. “Retreat?” one will cry and the rest will call back, “Hell!” The call and response comes, they tell us, from a leatherneck who was ordered to retreat during World War I. His response? “Retreat? Hell, we just got here.”
And that, my friends, is all you really need to know about this bullet-flying, pulse-pounding ride of a movie.
SSgt. Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) has just turned in his registration papers to his C.O. He’s served his twenty, including several tours of combat, and is ready to get out. His cushy job training recruits in California (at Camp Pendleton, one would assume, although it is not identified) keeps him busy, but he knows everyone talks about his disastrous last tour in which he failed to bring all his soldiers home.
When an unusual meteor shower threatens the coast of California, indeed the coast of many major cities worldwide, the boys are called up to help with evacuation of the civilian population. That is, until scientists clue them in that the meteors act like they’re motorized. It’s a full scale invasion from outerspace.
Soon, SSgt. Nantz finds himself second in command of a platoon, none of which have seen combat, helicoptering into prime ocean-front property that aliens are busy reducing to ashes. Without even pausing to ride the Ferris wheel at the Santa Monica Pier, aliens break through the surf to blow away civilians and military alike. The platoon is asked to penetrate into alien occupied zones, find civilians sheltered in a police station, and bring them to a military base. They’ve only got a few hours in which to do so, as the Air Force is set to blow Santa Monica back into the sea at 0700.
Many of us would happily cede Los Angeles to aliens – some say that happened long ago – and call it a day, but the idea doesn’t sit well with the USMC. These are not your angst-ridden, bitter, cynical soldiers of recent Hollywood movies, but a throwback to easier times when a man or woman fought for family and country and no one batted an eye. No one winks or crosses their fingers when they raise and salute a flag. A few even read their Bible as they fly into the line of fire.
The film focuses tightly on the platoon itself. The audience only knows what they know and sees what they see. There are no grand speeches from a wise president or sweeping shots of disaster as in “Independence Day.” It’s closer to being embedded with a platoon as they fight building to building in Baghdad. Except, of course, the enemy is eight feet tall and has tentacles. The platoon learns on the fly about combat as well as about their enemy’s weaknesses. Lack of communication and a dearth of information make the combat conditions feel especially chaotic. No one knows when backup may come or from where it would appear. They don’t know why, either, they’re defending against invasion, except perhaps it has something to do with natural resources like water. When a child suggests that maybe the human race could negotiate with the invaders, the response is clear: “They’re probably not interested in talking if they came in shooting.”
When I say shooting, I mean lots and lots of shooting. The aliens, rendered through CGI, all look the same and somewhat resemble skinny Transformers. They’re also remarkably bad shots despite their superior weapons. The battle scenes, while exciting, become chaotic and confusing at times. There were times I would have sworn that every soldier was hit and wounded, only to see them dust themselves off and rise from smoking craters.
It doesn’t really matter, nor does the over-the-top ending. It’s a wild ride that delivers a bazooka shot of fresh air. Soldiers selflessly put their lives on the line to defend each other and the homeland. Sacrifice is not a thin and laughable idea, but the code by which they live and die. Scared, they overcome fear and act with courage. Toughened by battle, they still act with compassion to the children they rescue. They rise to be the best they can be, as the slogan goes.
It’s just a silly movie about aliens, but it’s a little bit more than that. It’s an homage to our troops, the kind they’ve deserved for years but rarely get from Hollywood. “Ooh-rah,” indeed.
Rated PG-13, the film has only an occasional profanity and no sexual content. The violence is intense, but not particularly graphic. There are, however, shots of dead civilian bodies that may be disturbing to younger children. Appropriate for teens.