So, the big budget sci-fi action romp that is Battle:Los Angeles is under the microscope. Does it hold up to the scrutiny? Read on, brave soul, to find out more!
The concept behind this film is nothing new in that aliens have come to destroy our race and colonize our planet. We've seen it done hundreds of times before in countless other movies ranging from B-grade monster movies that Elvira would introduce on her "Movie Macabre" program to big budget blockbusters. Are those other films better than "Battle: Los Angeles"? A few are, but honestly this was a missed opportunity in my opinion.
Battle Los Angeles, the actual title card in the film doesn't have the punctuation, begins with an introduction of our battle-worn hero, staff sergeant Michael Nantz, running along the beach. He is a veteran of over 20 years who has seen his fair share of mayhem and destruction. There is, in particular, an event that is mentioned numerous times throughout the film though never fully fleshed out by writers Chris Bertolini and Scott Silver. Marines died under Nantz's command and, well, he's torn up about it.
A brief aside, if you will, about Aaron Eckhart. This film proved to me that not only can this guy hold his own and shine in dramatic roles but he can also be a damned action hero. Kudos to the casting director here on getting Eckhart into the role.
Nantz is wanting out after many decades spent underneath Uncle Sam's heel and shall be departing as soon as he's finished training the latest batch of marines. The chaos soon starts, though, as meteors begin to plummet towards the coast of Los Angeles and Santa Monica. News reports flood the air waves of the same phenomenon happening globally and there are quite a few shots of the huddled masses staring intently at the television screen. A curious thing, though, as it is determined that these "meteors" are slowing down before they make impact. Sounds like trouble, soldier.
The action ramps up around this time as Nantz is brought in to serve under a newbie 2nd Lieutenant(Ramon Rodriguez) fresh out of the academy. The gang is all here including a Nigerion surgeon, and one my problems with the movie came out of the supporting characters. Nantz is a developed character that Eckhart brought some real fire and emotion to whereas the only other character that I can even really recall is Michelle Rodriguez's Air Force tech sergeant Elena Santos. The limited screen-time didn't hinder her one bit and she showed real chops. Everybody else, though? The "still wet behind the ears" rookie (Noel Fisher), the soon-to-be married grunt (Ne-Yo) and others who, honestly, I just don't recall because they are just talking heads.
So, the aliens are good right? They aren't just poorly designed things that are just there to be yelled at and fired at our by our cast of soldiers? Yes and no. Whenever we finally did get a look at the attackers in question I wasn't initially impressed by them. The shaky cam work that director Jonathan Liebesman felt was an absolute necessity to immerse the audience did a horrible job, at times, of just showing what it was our heroes were up against. It's old hat now, I know, but do we HAVE to keep making use of that style of filming? Here's the thing about that. Good movies are good when it comes to action sequences because you know where the characters are. Here we were treated to a lot of running, pausing to yell something and then bullets spraying out in every direction.
That isn't to say there weren't scenes that didn't work because there definitely were. We've moved past it. It was great when we first started seeing it in action films and the like, but give it a rest. That all feeds into some rather lazy editing on the part of the crew here. There were too many shots, for my taste where we see someone yelling, usually Eckhart, and then all around him there is something going on. Some of the time I could tell you what it was, but usually not.
The thing that Battle Los Angeles never does is let go. It clings desperately to the serious tone that is fostered from the initial invasion yet wants to be this rip-roarin' action picture as well. The studio executives must have green-lighted this movie due to a "This is totally Independence Day meets Blackhawk Down!!" sort of pitch. If this were a film built more around the action and better shot it would have been better I think. We get, instead, some genuinely good sequences mixed in with some poor dialogue and a tone that just brings the whole feeling of the movie down at times. If, perhaps, the script had been written in such a way we would have a better product but instead we get long-winded dramatic monologues about feeling the loss of every single soldier under his command (Nantz) that is then waved away with "But none of that matters now..". I get what they're going for in terms of action needs to be taken and there's no time to sit and mourn but still. That was just one of many instances where we just didn't have great character interaction and/or poor scripting. Keeping the story confined to the platoon of men under Nantz was a good choice.
Eckhart really does a great job here and brought his A-game to this film. The special effects, in terms of the destruction wrought by the alien forces, was also quite well done. The aliens themselves, for me, were sort of a mixed bag with a sort of feeling akin to "It looks kinda cool..from far away." The crafts that they flew around on, despite having a pieced together feeling to them, were decent looking. I liked that, honestly, their technology didn't seem to be light years ahead of us but only maybe decades or hundreds of years. Michelle Rodriguez did a fine job as well, though she didn't get to really expand the character as much as I would have liked to see. My score may seem generous but I ended up enjoying the film so that colors my overall view a fair amount. I know Ebert absolutely killed it, but honestly this was a better film than he gives it credit for I think.
I say it's a missed opportunity because well, there were some really kick-ass science fiction elements that could have been explored here. I wanted to know more about the aliens themselves but I get they were going for an "Us v. Them" mindset here and why bother with defining the alien threat more. We know for sure that the marines are good people and that they are kicking ass for the USA! Still number one, baby! It boiled down to a military film about a ground war between humans and aliens. That could have been REALLY compelling but, instead, we got a mixed result of it being exciting some of the time. I'm just glad there wasn't a need felt by the writers or director to insert random scenes of military big wigs yelling about "Not having enough time!" or pointing to some 3-D layout of Los Angeles and restating the obvious of "Well, these aliens are certainly kicking us right in the jewels right now!".
All that said I still ended up enjoying this film. There are problems with it, sure, but I still enjoyed it for the most part. My mind was in constant conflict the whole time, though, as I had to switch off certain sectors of my more critical/cynical side to actually enjoy it. It is only now, once I've digested it thoroughly, that I was able to actually assemble my thoughts on the matter.
Summary: This was an okay science-fiction flick that got lost in it's own dire tone. The invasion of Earth was loud, messy and sometimes out of focus and tough to follow. Eckhart, however, managed to redeem some of the film's lesser qualities for me. Felt more like a summer action movie than a serious alien invasion movie. Popcorn ahoy.
Zeitgeeks Score: 7.5/10
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