Movie Review - Battle: Los Angeles
By Matthew Huntley
March 21, 2011
You can’t knock Battle: Los Angeles for not living up to its name. From beginning to end, there is only one thing taking place on-screen: a battle. Meanwhile, the audience sits there and watches, rather numbingly, as a group of U.S. marines moves from one location to the next either shooting at or blowing up extra-terrestrials, which goes on and on. The whole movie plays like a demo for a first-person shooter game, with the only difference being that demos are shorter and more engaging.
Battle: Los Angeles is mostly a mess, although it’s not entirely painful. It’s just a tedious exercise in action and special effects that, after a short while, becomes irrelevant to us. About a third of the way through, there comes a point where we simply accept this is all it’s going to be — shooting and exploding, exploding and shooting — and we’re left asking ourselves why we’re still watching it. The overlong and unnecessary introductions to the characters and plot eventually plateau but neither tension nor excitement takes their place. This is one of those movies where there’s plenty to see and hear but nothing to watch or listen to, if you know what I mean.
As you can imagine, the story is mostly derived from the action scenes of other alien invasion movies, most notably Independence Day and District 9. But those movies were entertaining not just because of their action and special effects; they also had characters we cared about, humor, social commentary and emotion. Battle: Los Angeles lacks a human element. Sure, there are humans in it, but aside from their names, genders and races, there’s not a whole lot that distinguishes one from the other.
I find it amusing that the movie goes to such great lengths to introduce each of the soldiers with on-screen text, as if we’re supposed to remember their names and ranks by reading them. And what do I care if one soldier is getting married, or if another is a virgin, or if one had a brother that was killed in Iraq? The movie goes such little distance to develop these people that their introductions feel more like time fillers before the action scenes kick in. Then again, the whole movie feels like a time filler.
The story takes place in the near future — August 2011 — when objects initially presumed to be meteors start falling from the sky and land off the coast of Santa Monica. There are growing concerns when NASA informs the local military unit at Camp Pendleton the objects are slowing down before they land and appear to be mechanical, as if something is controlling them. No effort is made to disguise the fact that Los Angles is under attack by an alien race, but just in case we were unsure, one officer says, “This is a textbook invasion,” and the city is evacuated and the marines are called to arms.
That’s the set up, which eats up about 10 or 15 minutes of screen time. For the next hour and a half, we watch as the soldiers move across the city until they can figure out how to take down the aliens’ command center (I wasn’t kidding when I said it plays like a video game).
One of the marines is Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart), who, wouldn’t you know, led a team in Iraq where most of his men were killed. Back in the States, he’s waiting out a discharge and now taking orders from a younger lieutenant. On the outside, the younger officer is forceful about his command but in truth doesn’t have enough experience or confidence to know what he’s doing. You get zero points if you predict Nantz will eventually step in and get a chance to redeem himself, not to mention give a few inspirational speeches.
If it’s gunfire, explosions and special effects you want, then Battle: Los Angeles delivers. Notice I didn’t say the movie was particularly well-made, exciting or dramatic. The writing is pedestrian, the acting is merely serviceable and the special effects aren’t paired with a good enough story to make us really appreciate them. There’s one shot toward that end that was neat to look at (it’s one of the few moments when the movie takes its time to reveal something), but by then, we’re so jaded by all the redundant action and violence the movie no longer has our full attention.
Believe it or not, Battle: Los Angeles might benefit from a sequel. Perhaps it could be about the marines helping rebuild the city. That way we’d at least get to know them a bit and actually care they just spent the entire first movie fighting. Right now, there’s little reason to care.