Battle: Los Angeles
Battle: Los Angeles is only a science fiction film on the surface. The movie is really a war film with aliens in the place of human beings and the fight taking place on American soil rather than a foreign country. This premise is an intriguing take on the alien invasion genre, stripping it of the glossy gadgetry that is typically associated with it and giving the genre a Cloverfield-style gritty shakeup. Now, District 9 took the same approach, but that movie used the style in a way that compliments its message and story. Battle: Los Angeles uses that approach in order to give audiences a straightforward action movie with aliens by way of Black Hawk Down.
Plot Synopsis: After a meteor shower is soon identified as an alien invasion, the U.S. Army and the Marines set up bases to defend the ocean bordered cities from further damage. In Los Angeles, Staff Sergeant Nantz is assigned to a platoon being sent into the Santa Monica area for evacuation purposes. However, they find themselves overwhelmed by the extraterrestrial presence and the mission soon turns into an escape from the city.
It’s an admirably straightforward plot, without being overburdened by any unnecessary side tangents, but executed in a way that is uninvolving and occasionally slapdash. The action scenes are shot in the shaky-cam style that can work if done right, but can also be annoying if done wrong. Director Jonathon Liebesman puts forth a valiant effort, although he ends up wallowing in the method too much, shooting the action in almost exclusively close ups and having his editor chop the scenes in ways that confuse and disorient the viewer, but not in the way that they were probably intending. Even simple dialogue scenes are done this way and when a scene arrives where we should be able see an alien clearly as its being dissected, I ended up “fighting” with the camera and editing just to get a clear and simple glance of how it looks. From what I could make out, the alien design and their other weaponry are cool to look at, but feel more than a little inspired by the scrambled-junk look of District 9s Prawns and their ships.
If they remind you too much of Skyline, don’t hold that against the movie because some of the special effects artists who worked on this went off to create Skyline after finishing their work here (and managed to release that movie before it too). That said, a couple of the action set pieces do work despite the fast-and-loose technique, notably an attack on top of a freeway and the final standoff against a larger threat (which succeeds despite a grossly unexplained plot hole in the setup). The dirty feel of the combat is also a refreshing juxtaposition against the otherworldly technology of the aliens. Liebesman wants to achieve the Jaws effect of keeping the enemy hidden or seen from far away, and he mostly accomplishes that in the battle scenes.
Just as with any other movie of this type (such as Independence Day), the characters within the story are bound to be labeled as stereotypes, and sure enough we have the rookie, the soon-to-be-married soldier, etc. The best examples of movies that use stereotypical characters do so in ways that help them be distinctive from one another. The problem with Battle: Los Angeles is that once the introductory scenes are finished and the battle commences, the characters are so bland and interchangeable that it’s easy to forget who’s who. Only Aaron Eckhart stands out as Staff Sergeant Nantz, who is the only person given some level of depth to work with in addition to being the most talented actor of the bunch, presenting enough conviction to the role that you might miss the bad dialogue he has to spout off (which there is plenty of).
With only the most minimal emotional investment in the characters and action scenes that range from competently done to incomprehensible, Battle: Los Angeles doesn’t do its worthwhile premise any favors. With a script rewrite and less hyper-caffeinated editing, this could have been a rousing action spectacle that puts a gritty spin on the alien invasion flick. At this stage, it’s an unimaginative, occasionally exciting romp with no one to root for. It’s not bottom of the barrel bad, but it rests somewhere in the lower end of mediocre.