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