STARRING: Aaron Eckhart, Michelle
Rodriguez, Ramon Rodriguez, Bridget Moynahan, Ne-Yo, Michael Pena
2011, 116 Minutes, Directed by:
Los Angeles isn’t an alien invasion film; it’s a military picture with the
occasional alien appearance . . .
The marketing trumpets a global
perspective on trespassing extraterrestrials, but the picture actually takes
place almost entirely in Santa Monica, boiling down a sense of massive
widescreen scope to a few city miles, placing the audience into the driver’s
seat as a besieged platoon attempts to defend themselves against an unknown
enemy. Independence Day
this picture is most certainly not.
Aliens have attacked Earth,
leaving the locals stunned and shaken as vicious armies rise from the oceans to
begin their extermination of human life.
On the ground, a team of
Marines has been assembled to help evacuate Santa Monica before it’s blasted
into oblivion to halt advancing alien activity, with Staff Sergeant Michael
Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) called back into duty after a troubling history in
Storming the city, the platoon
encounters numerous alien warriors and ships armed with immense firepower and
technical superiority. Struggling to survive, the team comes across a few
frightened civilians (including Bridget Moynahan and Michael Pena) they must
protect, finding the road to rescue blocked by a relentless enemy that’s
difficult to kill.
The concept behind Battle:
Los Angeles is to take a sci-fi premise and shape it into modern
militaristic mayhem, with director Jonathan Liebesman (Darkness Falls,
Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning) deploying ceaseless amount of
shaky-cam stylistics to pound the viewer over the head with an impression of
front line realism.
It’s a concentrated effort to
turn the movie into sensory overload, excitedly mimicking brutal Iraq War videos
viewed on the news and internet.
"The platoon are counted on to scream and grunt, waiting for their
eventual death at the hands of a special effect . . ."
It’s a tricky concept, and one
that’s not especially novel, but Liebesman is committed to the cause. He wants
you to feel trapped in the middle of the action. He wants you to feel the heat
of combat on your cheeks. Apparently, he also wants you to barf up your popcorn,
with a quaking camera aesthetic that’s intolerable to endure at times, with
every last twitch of movement covered by a swaying frame.
Battle: Los Angeles is a
lot of noise covering for very minimal substance.
There’s a script credited to
Christopher Bertolini, but I don’t exactly understand what he’s responsible for.
The dialogue and plot highlight a hornet’s nest of clichés, pulled from every
last war film, spending the opening 15 minutes of the feature developing
faceless characters of no discernable personality before the carnage begins.
Only Nantz is handed an arc to
explore, but it’s a hoary beast concerning a broken leader rekindling his inner
fight, rising to lead his boys to victory. The rest of the platoon is filled
with unknown actors counted on to continually scream and grunt, waiting for
their eventual death at the hands of a special effect.
Instead of intensely investing
in the Marines and their individual quirks (think Aliens),
Liebesman plays the group as nondescript as possible, hunting for sobering
realism while sacrificing engaging cinema along the way.
The same emptiness carries over
to the enemy.
The invaders from outer space
are never revealed in full, reduced here to a squishy suit of organs and
bio-weapons, viewed primarily in the distance to save on visual effect fees.
There’s no defining moment where the Marines examine alien details, allowing the
viewer a full appreciation of the growing threat.
The baddies are an unexplained
menace, with a true operational dissection likely saved for the sequels. They
have laser guns and space ships, and they excel at reducing Los Angeles to
rubble. However, the film never feels like war. It feels like a pedestrian video
game. There’s no cinematic spirit or personality to delight in, with the picture
one mindless display of scurrying and screaming after another. The effect is
more numbing than rousing.
Battle: Los Angeles
finally hits a more blockbuster tone in the final act, where the squad takes on
an enormous alien control ship using all of their resources and military
It’s a case of too little too
late, breezing past a substantial threat (or final boss level) to madly dash
toward the anti-ending, where the story intends to carry on into numerous
sequels, maybe exploring skirmishes in additional Los Angeles suburbs, I don’t
Perhaps if more concentration
was put into building an engrossing, impassioned first installment, this
allegedly global invasion would be an event worthy of a franchise. Instead,
Battle: Los Angeles is a tiresome fireworks display starring a cast of
cardboard cutouts, quick to make a visceral fuss but frustratingly negligent
when it comes to providing a reason to care.