Battle: Los Angeles was not a great film, but it was a solid war/invasion movie with a little bit of science fiction glued on. The performances were fine, despite some characters being a little hackneyed and the “touching moments” and “stirring moments” being a little predictable.
But now that it’s out on DVD, I’m recommending you rent it. Here’s why.
The cast is extremely diverse – and the people of color are not the Marine equivalent of redshirts. The deaths appeared to be distributed fairly evenly across racial and ethnic groups.
Wait, did that sound grim?
There’s also an even distribution of competence and heroism, I promise. No one in the unit turns out to be a weak link, and everyone has each other’s back. Ramon Rodriguez, Ne-Yo, James Horoyuki Liao, Cory Hardrict, Adetokumboh M’Cormack, Neil Brown Jr., and even Michael Peña in his role as a civilian and caring father who has to pick up a gun – it was so nice to see all these men of color with speaking parts.
Yes, the central character and hero is an older white guy, and the film is about his attempt to prove himself. They are going to write the film so that he ends up leading a unit so he can be properly redeemed. But if you can take that as a given, there are a whole lot of other characters to enjoy. The cast reflects the over-representation of people of color in today’s military without turning the soldiers into victims of circumstance. Whatever their reasons for joining up, they are here to serve. There’s even a nod to military service being a route to U.S. citizenship.
Michelle Rodriguez plays an Air Force “tech sergeant” which means she’s not normally in a combat position. She falls in with our Marines after her unit is massacred by the invading aliens. There are some questions about her competence, but they related to her training as a tech. A couple of the guys in her unit give her a hard time when she wants a space on the firing line, but that’s related to her being Air Force and a tech, not because she’s a woman. That challenge is quelled instantly by her competence, instead of the audience being subjected to an ongoing “is she good enough” bunch of bull. For her character, Elena Santos, there is a time to fight, a time to use her brain and technical skills, and a time to kick a dead alien and yell “THAT HURT!” I was satisfied.
Even beyond the positive treatment of Elena Santos, Battle: Los Angeles almost entirely lacks the homophobic and sexist trash-talking usually found in military films. (It may completely lack, but there also may have been some quick thing we missed hearing?) I sometimes give military films a partial pass for this kind of thing, especially if they’re set in reality and not while aliens are bombing our coastal cities 20 minutes into the future. However, fictional films are not documentaries, obviously, and filmmakers can make choices about what they include in their scripts. These folks decided to skip the gender policing. It was refreshing.
The film itself was enjoyable but not one I would buy for watching multiple times. Sometimes you need a palate cleanser of an action movie, though, one that isn’t going to slap you in the face every once in a while with some egregious insult – and I think this would be a good candidate. It’s respectful of everyone involved, and I appreciated that.
(Okay, so it’s not respectful of the aliens, but they bombed out cities with no warning to steal all our resources. So I’m not as worried about them.)
Also see: Battle: Los Angeles And It’s Betters on tinyheroes
This post was originally published on Heroine Content, a feminist and anti-racist movie blog that ran from July 2006 to May 2012.