Screen Rant's Vic Holtreman reviews Battle: Los Angeles
Battle: Los Angeles (or if you're into the "texting" version, Battle: LA) was #4 on our 2011 Most Anticipated Movies list - and as we've made clear before, just because we have a lot of anticipation for a movie doesn't mean we know it's going to be great.
Well Battle: LA isn't great - but for a March action movie I'd call it at least good.
This film brings us yet another alien invasion story, with aspects we've seen before in movies in this genre - and others as well. Reminiscent of Independence Day, the story revolves around just a couple of days of events - the day leading up to the invasion and the day of. We're introduced to the marines who we will spend time with throughout most of the film one by one in a well meaning but clunky attempt at audience "insta-bond." As the film goes on you sort of get attached to a couple of them, but with most, not.
We're soon introduced to Staff Sgt. Nantz (Aaron Eckhart), a career marine who's getting up there in years but is still a guy who is in the field instead of behind a desk. He's on his way out when what seems to be a meteor shower hits the Earth, but ends up being (of course) an alien invasion. Things ramp up quickly and the military is called into action to evacuate the coastal area of Los Angeles, as the new arrivals waste no time proving that they do NOT come in peace. Our team of marines is tasked with evacuating any civilians that may still be located in Santa Monica, which will be bombed all the way to the coast in an effort to decimate the alien ground forces. Once they get into the area, the trick is getting out alive.
If that sounds faintly reminiscent of Black Hawk Down, rest assured that is not the only similarity. Battle: Los Angeles is shot in an unvarnished way - the intent being to make it seem like we're on the ground with these forces and it's played completely serious - you won't find any of the sort of humor that was in Independence Day despite the similarities to that film. This is presented as a realistic war film, albeit where the enemies lend an unreal quality.
Along with Black Hawk Down, there are scenes reminiscent of District 9, Aliens and I'm sure you could pick out a few other films as well. And I'm here to tell you, if you HATE shaky cam - this is NOT the film for you. It is used to excess here right from the start. A very basic scene that took place in an office with Nantz talking to another officer had so much camera movement that I thought maybe the cameraman had some sort of muscular control problem. Compounding this is the constant use of EXTREME facial close-ups, which made me wish I had sat a few rows further back.
Where the film excels is during the battle sequences that are quite intense and really put you in the thick of things. Where it does not, is when it tries to convey the (seemingly obligatory) little personal moments between characters. It's very clumsy and oh so clichéd almost every time - except for one scene in the third act where I would say the skills of Eckhart carry the simple but effective dialog and a scene between him and another marine actually packs an emotional punch.
While there are some weak performances, Aaron Eckhart does an admirable job as does Michelle Rodriguez for the short amount of time she has on the screen. A couple of the supporting characters drew me in as well, despite not having much time to do so with so many actors vying for camera time.
Another thing that I found quite gratifying (and I may get arguments on this, although I don't know why) is the portrayal of the U.S. military in particular and America in general. It harkens back to old war movies - you know, the ones where the soldiers were actually portrayed as heroes instead of villains or mentally damaged people. There were a couple of battle scenes were I'm not embarrassed to say that I felt a rush of pride at seeing the actions of the characters on the screen in battle and in the protection of civilians.
Director Jonathan Liebesman didn't have the best script to work with here (by Christopher Bertolini) - clunky dialog and not really what you would call a complex story, not even by a long shot. But given some decent material to work with, I look forward to seeing what he does in the future (he's directing the Clash of the Titans sequel). As far as this film goes, I do recommend seeing it on the big screen because in addition to the battle scenes, it has some pretty impressive sound design that is worth experiencing in a theater.
I'm thinking that while the film is not the greatest thing ever, suffers from uber-shaky cam, runs too long and is getting a drubbing by critics, that audiences will enjoy the "feel good" portrayal of the military and maybe find some catharsis in seeing them battle easily identifiable, no-grey-area villains.
Here's a trailer for Battle: Los Angeles: