When you are in the Marine Corps, you’re bound to watch anything that comes out featuring the branch. Call it being motivated if you want, but you’re bound to check it out. I watched Battle: LA or Battle Los Angeles on a bootleg DVD I got in Greece when I was part of the 22nd MEU. Interestingly enough, I watched The Pacific on a bootleg DVD in Camp Leatherneck on my way from Afghanistan and loved it. I guess I like bootleg DVDs featuring Marines. In all fairness, there was no other way to watch these movies.
Back then, we set up an ancient TV in our berthing area, fit ourselves into various corners on a Saturday night, and fired up the film. I remember watching the movie with fondness, but not much about the actual movie. It was one of those highlights where you and your boys watch a cheesy movie and provide the hilarious, foul-mouthed commentary you expect from a group of 18- to 22-year-old Marines. But recently, in some quest for nostalgia, I saw the movie streaming and hit play again.
The historical context of ‘Battle Los Angeles’
The film isn’t entirely original. It’s a bit of a retelling of something that actually happened… well, kind of. No actual Marines fought actual aliens, but still, the movie has loose ties to a mysterious real-life event. On February 23, with World War II raging on, and the attack on Pearl Harbor had taken place two months ago, a Japanese submarine launched shells at aviation fuel tanks in the United States.
Tensions were high, and to defend against attacks on the coasts, bunkers were built, anti-aircraft guns installed, and civil air sirens equipped to police cars. Americans on the West Coast blacked out their windows to avoid showing population centers to Japanese subs.
On February 24, a warning was issued that an attack on mainland California was expected. That night flares and weird lights were spotted near defense plants. On the early morning of the 25th air raid sirens sounded through Los Angeles county. A blackout was ordered, and air raid wardens took their positions. Around 03:00, the 37th Coast Artillery Brigade began firing their M2 machine guns and anti-aircraft shells at what they reported as aircraft. They fired over 1,400 shells.
No aircraft were hit or damaged, and the event was mired in mystery. This led some to believe it was aliens visiting in their flying saucers. This event is what Battle: Los Angeles is somewhat based on, but the movie is set in 2011 and features a “platoon’ of Marines.
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‘Battle: Los Angeles’ circa 2011
The film quickly introduces us to the main character, Staff Sergeant Nantz, played by the incredibly handsome Aaron Eckhart. Nantz has been a staff sergeant for 20 years and is looking to retire. Something happened on his last deployment, but it’s never revealed what. However, we learn it’s causing some tension in his platoon of infantry Marines.
The film starts with a normal Marine Corps morning of PT at the beach, in realistic green on green PT gear. We see that Nantz is an old man, or at least feels like he is. He’s assigned to the 1st platoon of Echo company 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines.
He has a new 2nd lieutenant and a platoon that doesn’t really care for him. After this is established, the movie just dives into an alien invasion. We see the Marines gear up, get their guns and their kit, and pack for the mission of evacuating civilians.
The aliens apparently don’t have air support, so the plan is to bomb Santa Monica. However, a group of civilians needs evacuation, and the platoon has three hours to complete it. Predictably, they tangle with aliens and find them hard to kill. They meet an Air Force tech sergeant, played by Michelle Rodriquez, tasked with finding the command and control node of the alien force.
She brings some brain power to the brute force of the Marines and, as you’d imagine, changes their mission from evacuation to ultimately destroying the enemy presence in LA. The movie is an adventure through LA, with plenty of shooting and a surprising number of casualties. The good guys win, but the battle isn’t over, so they reload and plan to go back at it.
How does it stand as a film?
Battle: Los Angeles is a perfectly fine action film. It’s not impressive by any means, but it’s fun, violent, and loud. The story is simple enough that you could only half pay attention and figure it out. Everything about it is just fine.
It dips into the tropey stage with heroic sacrifices, unexpected deaths, and so on and so forth. It’s trying to be Blackhawk Down with aliens, but doesn’t reach that level. Battle: Los Angeles reeks of that 2011 style of action movie.
The movie is grim, dark, and the action is a 100 percent shaky cam. That is one of the more annoying parts of movies from this era, and I blame Nolan’s Batman for it. You never get a great clear shot of the action for longer than a second.
The special effects look super dated already. The aliens are terrible looking, enough so that the movie wisely doesn’t linger long on them. All of the aliens’ ships and pieces of tech are just ugly.
I don’t have a rating system for these articles, but if I did, this movie would get an “It’s fine.”
How it portrays Marines
The movie does a pretty good job of capturing the Marine Corps. Clearly, the Corps was happy to assist and provided plenty of helicopters, extras, and more. The Marines look like Marines. Their kit is dead on for that era, as are the weapons, which are a mix of M4s, M16s, and M249 SAWs with ACOGs, Surefires, and PEQs. That’s all gear a 2011 Marine would have.
It looks like the actors got a full Marine gear issue and wear it all. Stuff like elbow pads are used, and that’s not something you’d see most Marines wearing. Yet, we see them mount bayonets, which is a very Marine Corps thing.
They wear gloves and eye pro most of the time. They have slings and goggles mounted to their helmets. It’s all pretty realistic. They aren’t shown as super soldiers: in the moments before the battle, they are just young kids who act like it.
There are a few things I love. After a close encounter with an alien, the alien falls into a pool. A Marine casually tosses a grenade in the pool after it while almost humorously saying, “Frag out.”
Battle Los Angeles doesn’t capture the Marine Corps perfectly, however. Every time they say “F.O.B.” instead of “fob,” I cringe hard. Also, Nantz has a platoon that is tasked with a mission, but in reality, it’s a squad-size element. There is no delineation of who is a squad or team leader. They are told to take a “machine gun” team but never do.
Oh, and their barracks rooms are unbelievably massive.
‘Battle: Los Angeles’ – Off duty
Is Battle: Los Angeles worth watching? Sure, if you have nothing else to do and need a mindless action flick, Battle: Los Angeles delivers that kind of experience. It’s a neat look back at my generation of Marines, and their gear and equipment. Sadly, that era is not immortalized in a better flick. I’ll give them credit for trying to get the Marine Corps right; they did a fairly good job at that.
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