The James Clayton column: Oorah for Earth’s Marines!

The macho action of Battle: Los Angeles leaves James pondering the US Marine Corp’s perpetual aggression against alien visitors in films…

Caution: This piece contains mild spoilers for Skyline and Battle: Los Angeles

Last year, Los Angeles was invaded by aliens in the Brothers Strause special effects showcase, Skyline. Once the descending extraterrestrial space hoovers had subjected the city to blue lighting and a blast of shock and awe, their intentions became clear. They came from outerspace for our brains.

Having seen its shiny people undergo the cerebrum-sucking ordeals of Skyline, Hollywood saw the (blue) light and adopted a new strategy for Battle: Los Angeles, this year’s alien invasion. They sent in the US Marines.

The spacelings couldn’t possibly remove the grey stuff that sits between the ears of the archetypal jarhead and recycle it as a power source. The mind of a Marine is pure rock hard Marine Corps and nothing more.

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All scientific and cinematic evidence suggests that every single cell encased in the shell of a Marine’s skull is one hundred percent Oorahantium. This is a classified element that will not appear in chemistry textbooks or on the periodic table as long as the USMC warily keeps the substance to itself. The mystery material is, therefore, the subject of much uncertainty and academic conjecture, but we do know that Full Metal Jacket‘s Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (everyone’s favourite movie Marine) had a heart made of pure Oorahantium ore.

Enough of that, though, because cinema is no place for hard science. It’s a place for time-travelling cyborgs, space cruiser dogfights and prehistoric radioactive monsters that persist in coming back from subterranean deep freeze for further sequels. The movies are exempt from the laws of physics and urge the ‘suspension of disbelief’ ethos.

Disengage your brain and don’t question the blockbuster, Private. In fact, hand it over and substitute it for this slab of prime Oorahantium and we’ll make you into a damn fine Marine, yet.

To the action, and America’s most outstanding are mobilised in Battle: Los Angeles when meteorites start landing off the Santa Monica coastline. Later on, it’s suggested that the visitors are invading because they want Earth’s water, so considering that the word ‘marine’ refers to water, the big guns appear to be the appropriate opposition to pit against the non-terrestrial trespassers.

The Marines are also an ideal option because they are hardcore, the best of the best of the best, Sir! The impression we get from media portrayals is that this branch of the military is exceptional. These guys shout the loudest, are the best drilled and are the most devoted and diehard among all modern warriors. “The deadliest weapon in the world is a Marine and his rifle.” You better respect that, maggot, or else Sgt. Hartman will come and make you respect it, and he will motivate you “even if it short-dicks every cannibal in the Congo”. (I have no idea what that means, but it sounds like the best film Werner Herzog hasn’t made yet.)

Such is the revered legend of these killing machines that they’re also Earth’s representatives when military goons are required for space combat in movies like Moonranker and Aliens. Who cares that the concept of ‘Space Marines’ doesn’t quite work when there’s no water out there? We disengaged our brain and left it in the foyer or back at boot camp, remember? Hell yeah for Marines Corps ruling space, and in Avatar, even overcoming their paraplegic limitations to meet their mission objective! Marines never quit! Outstanding! Oorah! Get some!

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As an additional bonus, you can put faith in Sgt. Hartman’s conviction that “God has a hard-on for Marines because we kill everything we see”, so God is on their side as well and smiles on their violence. Reassured by this, the audience knows that in Battle: Los Angeles the City of Angels will eventually find righteous salvation and be saved from the celestial scourge that’s smoking it.

So, out of the Camp Pendleton base ride our all-American überheroes, ready to blast the baddies from beyond the stars as they storm the beach on invasion day (which turns out to be the day before my birthday. Will the aliens arrive in time for cake?).

Unfortunately, the movie Marines are troubled and don’t know how to tackle this unknown, overwhelming opposition that’s completely obliterating the city. Having had their brains reconfigured as raw recruits, they struggle to get their heads around the enemy. They only seem to realise they are dealing with aliens while in transit from the base, despite the briefing mentioning meteorites with mechanical insides. The first instinct is ‘kill’ and further thinking beyond that appears outside the objective for Leathernecks.

Seeing the Corps losing it in ‘the shit’, I came to recall the other screen representations, Generation Kill, Jarhead, Full Metal Jacket, etc., where the Marines actually prove to be pretty inept in their onscreen representations. Thinking on it further, SNAFU seems to be the standard for these self-proclaimed primo killing machines. Beyond boot camp, the boasting that “Marine Corps live forever!” and all the bawling of “retreat, hell!” their speciality appears to be botching things, if the movies are anything to go by.

In Battle: Los Angeles, it’s telling that breakthroughs against the hostile opposition only come after some intellectual investigation on the corpse of a dead extraterrestrial. A definitive understanding of how to fatally wound the seemingly invincible invaders comes when a doctor and vet perform a dissection. Sadly for the jarheads, it turns out you can’t kill an alien with clichéd catchphrases.

Striking the enemy’s weak point ultimately involves some strategy, not just the sterling leadership of Aaron Eckhart’s Staff Sergeant Nantz, the ‘Marines never quit’ attitude and all the other ‘John Wayne shit’ that comes with it. The bullets are firing, but you also need brains to beat these things that threaten humankind’s survival.

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Re-installing my mind (I’ll never be a silver screen Marine. I’m not American and I’ll surely fail the physical exam) I come away from Battle: Los Angeles as a blockbusterified B-movie experience questioning the whole cult of the US Marines (and I guess the military as a whole). I find myself asking: where are the scientists? Where’s the person the UN appointed as Earth’s diplomat for extraterrestrial communications? Shouldn’t we be sending these more qualified, suitable, sensible people to engage with the aliens instead of hardcore war machines who were trained to kill?

Maybe it’s just me and the doubts are part of my ‘major malfunction’. I need Gunnery Sgt. Hartman to motivate me. To all the cannibals in the Congo, I’m so sorry.

James’ previous column can be found here.

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