Meathead generals just can’t understand what the brilliant scientist is trying to explain. Soldiers can’t get the job done without the help of the brilliant criminal. The only strategy the military knows how to use is a carpet-bombing campaign.
Seriously, we know that movie and TV writing is complicated, and that movie makers have to take some liberties in order to get their plots jump started, but these seven tropes that rely on military stupidity should really be used less often — if at all.
In Battlestar Galactica, the military got behind a plan to deploy thousands of immortal robot warriors over which they had little control. But, in their defense, the Cylons came back sexy. So… win?
1. Military leaders use dangerous technology because science is hard
The Terminator movies are awesome. Arnold Schwarzenegger is swole, explosions are fun, and robots fighting robots is exhilarating. But does it really make sense that the U.S. military gives control of nearly all of its weapons, from nukes to stealth bombers to cyber defenses, to Skynet, a single computer program that they don’t understand? No human pilots? No man in the loop? No kill switch? Great idea.
The same issues exist within the Cylons of 2004’s Battlestar Galactica, the zombies in Return of the Living Dead 3, and the indominus rex from Jurassic World (yeah, supposedly, the military was secretly buying the data from that research in order to create dinosaur units).
Plots like these rely on the military looking at lethal weapons, over which they have no direct control, and going, “huh? Yeah, sure. We should deploy these things. Preferably, within easy range of our own troops and citizens with little or no real safeguards.”
Seriously, in Terminator Salvation, terminators physically touch John Connor, like, four times and don’t manage to kill him. I don’t think terminators need to eliminate John Connor to win. They need to figure out how to kill in the first place.
2. Only one soldier can save us all
Remember when your entire battalion, squadron, or fleet’s mission revolved around one guy, and if he didn’t succeed then the entire battle would be lost? No? Maybe because that’s a horrible way to form a strategy. Nearly all military units spend a lot of time and energy ensuring that everyone can be replaced in case of battlefield loss.
And yet, only one Hobbit can deliver the ring to Mordor even though there are multiple armies standing by to do whatever needs done. John Connor is the only one who can stop Skynet, so much so that the factions fight to protect or destroy Sarah Connor’s womb rather than just promoting a new leader. Surely there’s some other small-unit leader that can fail to detect Terminators until they throw him across the room.
Snake Plissken is the only one who can get people out of dangerous, crime-ridden cities. Maybe because he’s the only one who is this calm while his helicopter is on fire.
3. Recruiting the criminal
In the trope above, at least it’s a soldier that the military is relying on. In Rambo: First Blood Part II, Rambo is freed from prison to complete missions. Snake Plissken, a notorious outlaw, is the only person who can save the president in Escape from New York. Dirty Dozen sees an entire special operations unit constructed out of the Army’s hardest criminals.
It’s weird that the military doesn’t have any other special operators with, you know, more training — and discipline. And impulse control.
“Literally anything has happened. It’s time to bomb people.”
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Xiomara Martinez)
4. The military just wants to bomb everyone
The only way to defeat an enemy force is to bomb it into oblivion — at least according to some movie military leaders. General Brigham, leader of the United Defense Front in Edge of Tomorrow, is asked about what he would do if it turned out one of his soldiers could time travel and knows where the time-controlling hivemind of the enemy is. His reply? Bomb it.
That’s also the military’s response to a quarantine breach in 28 Weeks Later. In just a couple of minutes, they’re firebombing apartment buildings filled with civilians. “Well, about 20 sniper shots failed to solve the problem… I guess we should turn to firebombing civilians.”
Speaking of which …
Soldiers in zombie movies are just so bad. So very bad.
5. The military completely fails to enforce basic security measures
Why is it that the military can’t enforce a quarantine or lockdown in nearly any movie ever? The aforementioned 28 Weeks Later catastrophe occurs when the military decides to study the single human carrier of the dormant strain of the rage virus. They leave her locked behind doors that her husband, a glorified janitor at the facility, has the ability to unlock. Then, the now-zombified janitor is able to access the shelter where all the civilians have been sequestered, causing an outbreak.
Seems like they almost want the infection to spread. And then there’s that gum-chewing scene in 1998’s Godzilla, in which a gate guard lets a Humvee through because the occupants swear a sergeant called for them. He doesn’t check IDs, he doesn’t call the supposed sergeant — great job. I guess that barely matters when base walls in movies like The Hurt Locker are jumpable AF.
“Hey, this fight against these seemingly dead people is getting pretty serious. Think we should take off in any of our helicopters or drive any of our Humvees in either attack or retreat?” “Nah, that’ll screw up the ambiance for any unlikely survivors. Let’s leave them parked and get eaten.”
6. Military units are overrun by zombies and other slow monsters
Maybe that lax security is why zombies overrun mobile military units in shows like The Walking Dead and movies like 28 Days Later and Dawn of the Dead. Sure, you need to get rid of the military for your zombie survivor story to make sense and have high stakes, but how did a helicopter unit and tanks get overrun by zombies that shamble no faster than 5 miles per hour?
Please, at least claim they ran out of fuel or something. (Yes, yes. We know the 28 Days Later zombies are fast, but still.)
A rogue commando officer armed with a rifle, a knife, and years of experience fails to take down a lab-rate chemical weapons specialist in The Rock.
7. Trained killers can’t quite hit the hero or villain
In 28 Weeks Later (I love that movie, but, seriously, come on), an Apache chases a station wagon through the streets of London and is able to stick with it through some determined flying but, somehow, can’t make contact with a single round. An Apache attacks a station wagon and the station wagon survives — what?
It’s sort of like how Nicholas Cage’s character in The Rock, Stanley Goodspeed, survives numerous encounters with elite commandos who shoot at him with rifles and pistols in addition to attacking him with knives and grenades, but the worst damage he takes is self-inflicted when he uses a nerve gas capsule to poison one of the commandos.
Hollywood knows that Marines are really good at killing people, right?