Fight or Flight

Battle: Los Angeles is the American shadow writ large on a movie screen. An alien enemy invades from the sky, tearing apart the beaches of Santa Monica and Malibu, destroying the Los Angeles skyline, incinerating skyscrapers and tiny apartments alike. The military is immediately mobilized, and goes to work. The city has never looked so terrible; the urge for violence never more integrated into the psyche of the protagonist. It is, simply, kill or be killed; so go ahead and kill. Kill a lot.

Critics who denounce the film as nothing more than a video-game, shoot 'em-up nightmare are missing the point. Battle: Los Angeles is far more subtle than this reception suggests -- after many attempts at serious films about wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, we finally have one that’s distilled down to purest essence: unadulterated fight or flight. No questions asked, no quarter given, no imagining of why the enemy invaded, how to prevent it, or how to resist without destroying ourselves. The lead character lost men in Iraq due to an impossible choice; the alien invasion is an opportunity to salve his conscience. So he makes up for previous horror by creating more, while soldiering is presented as nothing more than a job -- experimenting with the best way to kill an alien, skipping breakfast to get back in the fight.

Battle: Los Angeles is also as honest as Saving Private Ryan about the trauma of war, and refreshingly open-minded about who gets a stake in America’s future. The combat units are racially integrated (and have two women with them too); the only voice that speaks up for a nonviolent response comes from a Latino child -- respecting both ethnic diversity and the wisdom of innocence.

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