Battle: Los Angeles Review

Battle: Los Angeles
Directed by: Jonathan Liebesman
Written by: Chris Bertolini
Starring: Aaron Eckhart, Michelle Rodriguez, Ramon Rodriguez, Michael Pena, Bridget Moynahan, Ne-Yo

Battle: Los Angeles is really two movies. One is a disappointing SF film about an alien invasion. The other is an earnest, reasonably authentic war movie, which in its best moments recreates what it must be like to be embedded with real troops. Unfortunately it has some worst moments too. If you enjoy video games, Battle: Los Angeles is ready for you to boot up. You’ll feel right at home except for not having your M16 of course. For SF admirers, aside from the alien hardware and a fresh reason to be invaded, there’s not much here for you.

Leading the platoon (and giving the movie a fighting chance) is Aaron Eckhart. As Staff Sgt. Michael Nantz, the invasion puts his resignation on hold and gives him a new 2nd Lt. – William Martinez – to report to. It’s made clear up front that, in spite of a haunted past, the Staff Sgt will quickly become Martinez’s mentor as the 2nd Lt. grows into a leader. (If this is starting to sound familiar, yes it is). The film quickly introduces the men in the group but spends no time going past stereotypes. As the alien beachhead storms ashore in Santa Monica, the surfers are easily overrun and our platoon is thrown into the deep end.

Where the movie succeeds is in capturing the desperate fighting – street-to-street and house-to-house – as they battle towards an overrun police station to rescue some civilians. Every shadow is a threat (we haven’t really seen the aliens yet) and the grit and gunfire combined with the flying debris is an excellent combat simulator. Eventually alien combat units are confronted and taken out but not without deploying serious human firepower. Trapped in a building, our platoon is able to take many aliens as they storm in. One is dragged into a side room and here the director reprises alien autopsy. It makes sense because one of the rescued victims announces she can help. “I’m a veterinarian.” Huh? After much hands-on surgery, Staff Sgt. Nantz discovers the alien heart just to the right of where ours is. I guess it was important but somehow a kill spot didn’t seem a priority when you use an RPG.

A wild freeway bus ride to a confrontation on an off ramp that doesn’t do offs anymore is the movie’s homage to state-of-the-art combat filming. It’s really quite good but the fact that we are fighting “aliens” dilutes the visceral effect that should be kicking in. The long shots of burning Los Angeles and panoramas of the beachheads have lost their impact. We’ve seen them many times in everything from Independence Day to 2012. Ratcheting up the emotional level for Battle: Los Angeles is just not happening. The play for your sympathy reaches its nadir when Nantz has to explain to a young boy why he needs to go on in spite of just losing his father. The Warriors Way (aka the Marine Code of Honor) works in a narrow range of situations and this is embarrassingly not one of them.

There are just enough light creative touches in Battle: Los Angeles to make you wish they hadn’t been sidetracked by all this booyah stuff (using the technical support of Camp Pendleton advisors cuts both ways I guess). The alien’s hardware is authentically
otherworldly. The sound effects for their drones, ships, and the battle scenes in general are quite well done. I must also commend them for not using the standard “Go go go!” in spite of many, many opportunities. I did hear “Now now now” once. A heartfelt thank
you for that fresh interpretation. As for alien incentive, we learn they are after our water – that being a rare commodity in the universe we are told. Sea levels have dropped a couple of feet already. If they spent time thinking about an alien rationale, why didn’t our moviemakers engage us with even more thought provoking material?

Sixty years after the seminal War of the Worlds, doing a compelling alien invasion is tough. No question. There are only a few elements to play with: the aliens, the humans, the reason for the get-together, and how the encounter evolved. Independence Day did it with a nice pop flavor. District 9 finessed the invasion concept with characters and story. Close Encounters played against tradition as did The Day the Earth Stood Still. And despite the garish title, Invasion of the Body Snatchers – perhaps the greatest of them all – needed only a pod on a pool table to generate real angst about who was sitting next to you. For some reason, Battle: Los Angeles never gets out of the trenches. For video gamers, that’s probably a good night out. For SF fans, your time will come. Just not now. — Curt

SCORE: 2.5 stars

Recommended If You Like: Independence Day, War of the Worlds, District 9

  • just got back from it. Doesn’t have the heart District 9 introduced so it plays like 2012/Marines. Actually, 2012 relishes the details; whereas, Battle LA uses the kinetic camera to mask to much of the details.

    I understand this is the concept, but there is a fine line between “protecting” the visuals/story through kinetic camera work and simply “masking a lack of” visuals/story through kinetic camera work.

    When the details are seen they disappoint. It was an o.k. ride but there is no depth what-so-ever. Due to the lack of details I really don’t see this as a “must see on the big screen”.

  • Mikey T

    I wanted to like this, it’s usually the type of film I enjoy, but after my 20th groan inducing moment I finally gave up. I haven’t walked out of a film in ages, but I left this one with about a half hour to go. I just found myself not really caring how it ended and didn’t feel like wasting my time anymore. It’s a mindlessly boring story and offers nothing we haven’t seen already as far as action or special effects. There’s a few decent action sequences but it’s lost in a simply not caring kind of way.

  • Derek McFarland

    I think what was lacking was the rating of the film. The outcome of the film would have turned out way better if the movie had an R rating. It would have felt more authentic, in my opinion. After watching the trailers, It looked like it was gonna be a gritty alien invasion flick. Later on I saw the rating, but still somewhat had my hopes high. Hopefully when it comes ta DVD, it would be nice if they have an unrated version.

  • Darksiders

    Question: Did they start the film with a title card of ‘inspired by true events’? In one review on it mentioned that…

  • brugal

    I though it was a great movie, it wasn’t too over the top like Independence Day which I think people where looking for. It seemed more “down to Earth” and believable thats what pretty much drew me in, that and the Action scenes where pretty cool.

    honestly the movie to me was like a “Black HAwk Down” but with aliens

    I would say this, it did feel like some Marine recruitment video……and the ending as good as it was they did say something that reminded me of Independence day dialog wise,

    I’d give the movie a 3 out of 4.

  • 1138sw

    I wasn’t crazy about it but I liked it for what it was. Was it high brow sci-fi? No to be honest that wasn’t what I was expecting. It was a popcorn movie pure simple…a “wham bam thank you mam” type of movie. It was fun with all the action and do think the live action combined with CG was quite good.

    if it wasn’t for Aaron Eckhart ( great underrated actor…people should see “Thank you for not smoking”…he’s awesome in it), I would have hated it that’s for sure.

    I remember seeing War of the Worlds when I was a kid thinking Jeez they did this in the 1950’s??! That was awesome! And as I grew up I grew to respect it even more. I’ve been looking for a “War of the Worlds” movie for sometime. Something that felt smart and epic at the same time, where Humanity felt like it could truly be wiped out.

    Was “Battle…” movie? By no means no. But it wasn’t meant to be. It was just popcorn disposable fun.

    Oh and thanks for referencing a classic movie like War of the worlds Curt. And for mentioning the Invasion of the Body Snatchers another classic invasion movie.

  • Anthony

    Just watched the movie. Meh. They seemed to really just jump into the story and shit, and overall I just found the movie kind of boring. Way too long, acting was meh. I don’t know, just didn’t enjoy it that much.

  • DreamWeaverPL

    I’m disgusted by all those negative comments. People, what did you expect?! A heavy hard-science-fiction tale like Moon or something based on Philip K. Dick?

    This is supposed to be an alien invasion flick, and in my opinion it’s the best that was ever created in it’s own category. The invasion is depicted in a never-before-seen scale. What is it that you missed in this movie? A dad trying to save his little children and his ex-wife? The President of the United States of America giving an epic, heart-warming, heroic speech to the nation? Will Smith punching an alien in the face and saying “welcum to urth”? WTF, people? Even from the science-fiction point of view this film makes much more sense than Independence Day, 2012, War of the Worlds, or even District 9 (which was just social commentary in s-f disguise). The aliens in Battle LA don’t speak American. Oh, and the ending was all about heroism and exploiting a weak point, not just a cheap “THE VIRUS” ending.

    BTW I think Eckhart and Rodriguez did good.

  • Inverse

    I never really had the feeling they were in LA during the entire film. No real shots of anything important. No human suffering. No civilian destruction. Nothing really made me feel like anything was at stake. I was completely disconnected between the soldiers and aliens~ and what was supposed to be a movie about an invasion on US soil. It could have been any city, anywhere in the world.