Another year, another unrelenting attack by hostile aliens on our planet. Who knew that Earth was such a valuable commodity? As we've learned to expect from the genre, Battle Los Angeles is a lot of action loosely woven together by a semi-comprehensible storyline, a bunch of Marines and a few painfully insipid scenes where The Deeper Meaning of Being Human are discussed.
The film starts out with the invasion and there's no question, the aliens are smart, aggressive and alarmingly effective. They've simultaneously targeted major cities throughout the world and standard military tactics are completely ineffective. When we humans are convinced that we at least have air superiority the aliens roll out lightning-fast fighters. Not good!
On the side of humanity we have a group of US Marines busy training at Camp Pendelton, including the troubled Staff Sergeant Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) who is ready to resign his commission after his previous mission went terribly wrong. Los Angeles is attacked and they need every warm body on the front lines, so Nantz, Martinez (Ramon Rodriguez), Lockett (Cory Hardrict), Stavrou (Gino Anthony Pesi), Harris (Ne-Yo) and Mottola (James Hiroyuki Liao) all grab grenades, clips for their rifles and jump in a chopper. Booyah!
There's much to like in this gung-ho military alien invasion Western with its video game sensibilities, including a believable alien enemy and a somewhat ambiguous ending that wasn't as ghastly stupid as the recent alien invasion film Skyline nor as goofy as the common cold plague that afflicted the Martian invaders in War of the Worlds. Still, it's a movie without nuance, the characters are all incredibly predictable, and the dialog ranges from adequate to daft, with a scene or two that will have you convinced you're seeing a high school movie club production, not a major studio motion picture.
Sound like your kind of escapist movie during a week characterized by tsunamis and a terrifying series of explosions in a damaged nuclear reactor? If so, then Battle Los Angeles is far from the worst movie in the cineplex right now, and if you can just enjoy it for what it is, you might be surprised how entertaining it is.
The alien forces are taking over Los Angeles and the last resort plan of the military is to nuke the city. No, I'm not kidding. There's a front line and the Marines learn that some civilians are holed up in a Santa Monica Police Department building deep in enemy territory. Their mission: rescue the civilians before the bomb drops. In a nod to High Noon, we see Nantz constantly checking his watch and telling the rest of his troops how much time they have left. It's a rather cliché device to create tension, but it's at least more tangible than the invasion itself.
The recent film 2012 might not have been a masterpiece in storyline and dialog, but it set a high bar for special effects with its memorable vistas of a ravaged, post-cataclysmic Los Angeles. Battle Los Angeles has a similar level of visual effects, with the scenes of an LA under siege quite believable. Freeways are torn up, half-destroyed and abandoned cars are scattered everywhere like a child's play room after a busy day, and smoke, flames, and the whirr of their alien weapons and pop of guns is a constant background noise.
Battle Los Angeles Mock Newscast
The film rather arbitrarily drops in professional Latina tough gal Michelle Rodriguez (as TSgt. Elena Santos) to ensure that it's not an all-guy military, and her character is a predictable combination of savvy Air Force intelligence agent and über-tough sharpshooter. There are plenty of Latina actors who manage to bring complicated characters to the screen, it'd be nice to see Rodriguez try a different role. Then again, this is Battle Los Angeles, not On Golden Pond, so perhaps it's the reviewer who's midding the point here...
Why have the aliens come to Earth and what are their goals in their attempts to eradicate every human on the planet? Some theories are suggested by newscasters and commentators within the context of the film, but I liked that there was no explanation. Perhaps we misunderstood their intentions in the first place? It's hard to misunderstand their weapons, drones and military equipment, however, and when the Marines find an injured alien and try to ascertain the most efficient way to kill it (in a scene very reminiscent of the TV show The Walking Dead) we're definitely rooting for the humans.
It's difficult to create an engaging film when it's assembled from clichés and tired cinematic tropes, but Battle Los Angeles does pretty well. Eckhart turns in an interesting performance as a troubled Marine, the special effects are exciting and visually arresting, and the aliens are appealingly tough and strange. If you can look past the banal elements, there's a pretty darn entertaining film that looks great on the big screen.