There is good news and bad news with the newly released film “Battle: Los Angeles.”
To explain the good news, you have to understand my rule of thumb for a movie such as “Battle: Los Angeles.” In any film that involves the cinematic destruction of L.A., you will never have to worry about tornadoes aliens or crustal displacement ever affecting anyone who lives past Sylmar and Granada Hills.
There is a reason why, instead of “going postal,” film directors take their frustration out on Santa Monica and Hollywood. For one, it saves you from spending money on bleach and hydrochloric acid.
No Hole For This Pigeon
As much as “Battle: Los Angeles” is a guilty pleasure film for sci-fi geeks and zealots like myself, it does have some short comings and plotholes that keep it from achieving the same level of notoriety as films like “Independence Day.”
To pigeon hole “Battle: Los Angeles” solely as an “alien invasion film” would not be doing the film justice. This is a war movie – a war movie that just happens to have some aliens in it.
The film starts with a marine platoon, led by Marine Staff Sgt. Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart), in a helicopter as they are going into combat before flashing back 24 hours previous to provide character backstory.
After all the necessary character foreshadowing and introductions are completed, the coming calamity is strategically built up in order to cause the most fear it can in the audience – and being a theater full of Angelenos it was very effective.
Eventually, the audience is treated to a very short and not-so-sweet military briefing. It’s at this point, that viewers are essentially told, “Yeah, they are aliens, now get over it and go kill everything that is not human…HOORAH!”
–Side Note: Even though this movie is rated PG-13, it is NOT a movie you want to take a small child to. The language in this movie is not as bad as other Marine oriented films but there are a good number of “F-Bombs” that are dropped along with a couple really dirty jokes here and there.–
It is shortly after this that our heroes, are submitted to first contact with “the unknown enemy.”
The aliens don’t have any real name – although some general four-letter adjectives would fit the bill considering all our heroes are marines – which is probably for the better since this movie takes place in the first frantic hours of an invasion. The characters are worried more about killing the invaders and surviving than they are about giving the aliens catchy names.
It should be noted that “Battle: Los Angeles” is not very detailed about the alien’s motives and reasoning. However, what is revealed is done so very creatively when the characters are not directly fighting our foes. We learn more about the aliens reasons behind the invasion and what is going on in other countries through radio and television reports, which do include speculation by so called “experts on the matter.”
Later in the film, there is a gruesome battlefield autopsy on an injured alien as Eckhart and crew try to find the best way to kill it. Without giving away the details, it is intensely graphic and something that I don’t think has been done before.
From there, you can guess the rest of the plot and not be very far off as this movie devolves into a free-for-all over Santa Monica and the best medical marijuana shops – because really, what else is there in Santa Monica worth saving?
Before setting into some of the biggest problems of this movie, I thought it would be a good idea to categorically break things down into 3 sections: the good, the bad, and favorite moments.
The Good: Devil Dogs and Establishing Shots
“Battle: Los Angeles” is an unabashed love letter to the Marine Corps. Eckhart is confident in his role as he carries the presence, charisma of the Marine Corps and is probably the best walking recruitment tool I have ever seen. He commands the screen with a presence that hasn’t been utilized since I first watched R. Lee Ermery in “Full Metal Jacket.”
The detail and accuracy represented in this film of our modern military is staggering – and I could go on for hours about it. Director Jonathan Liebesman has gone far above and beyond in the level of detail that is normally associated with an action-fluff movie like “Battle: Los Angeles.”
One thing about “Battle: Los Angeles” that you should note when watching, is that Liebesman chooses not to show the viewers close-ups of landmarks being destroyed. Instead, he treats the viewers to gorgeous wide shots of the battle from the air as it moves from Santa Monica and into LA.
He does break that rule once or twice as he shows some nice wide shots of the downtown LA skyline and of the Santa Monica Pier that viewers should look for since they are quick and have a lot of neat action happening.
The Bad: Cloverfield On Crack
“Battle: Los Angeles” is a gritty and dark action film. But if you were to sum up the biggest problems of “Battle: Los Angeles,” it would boil down to two words:
If you have never been a fan of movies like “The Bourne Identity” or “Cloverfield,” then you wont like “Battle: Los Angeles.” It is a whirlwind of kinetic action, even in dialogue heavy sequences, that have no use for that type of camera work.
Once action sequences start, the movie ends up throwing a bunch of blurry, rapidly moving shots and loud noises in the expectation that the viewer will be able to keep up. Dialogue during these scenes consists of horsely screamed orders and cries of terror or pain. Nothing that would be considered really original there.
Even though the film is set from the viewpoint of a soldier on the ground, this becomes almost too much and nearly overwhelms the entire film.
The other big issue that I take with “Battle: Los Angeles” is the writing. It borders on poorly written and is only redeemed by strong acting when things are not punctuated by shakes, rapid focus changes and gunfire.
For example, in one scene, Aaron Eckhart delivers a touching speech to a supporting character as the film reaches its thematic climax. But then, it is promptly followed up with some dialogue that is painfully acted by others and filled with trite clichés–the fact that Ne-Yo was given such a large roll in the film really is the crux of this complaint.
Oh, and don’t bother getting attached to most of the supporting actors.
The film racks up an impressive body count off of these “red shirts” – many of which were my favorites – which is a real shame considering that those remaining with Michelle Rodriguez and Aaron Eckhart have no redeeming value whatsoever.
One other thing that irks me about “Battle: Los Angeles” is the inclusion of civilians that need to be shepherded around and hold up our heros from what they do best for over half of the film. It distracts from the main group of characters who we have already built a rapport. Now, the viewer has to do that all over again with characters who have an entirely different mindset than our heroes.
Final Thoughts and Favorite Moments
“Battle: Los Angeles” is a great pre-Summer film. It is a film that is perfect for those few scant hours between your last class of the day and the late Friday party.
It doesn’t require any of the serious thought or moral dilemmas that normally come with regular science fiction films (i.e., “District 9”).
The only thing that “Battle: Los Angeles” requires is that you bring a suspension of disbelief and a willingness to have fun. If you are able to do that, than you most surely would be able to overlook various plotholes and cliche’ ridden dialog.
Sure, some people will try and evaluate the deeper meaning of this film, saying that its a reversal on the U.S. role in Afghanistan, but I think that these people no longer have a sense of imagination and cannot take things at face value anymore.
Now if you were to ask me my favorite moments out of the film that you should look out for, I would say watch for the following things:
Veterinarians, Michelle Rodriguez and alien goo.