What is it about America that aliens love so much? They actually seem to want to inhabit the land more than the current residents of good ol’ USA.
A sketchy explanation as to why it’s all going on involves a scientist on the news explaining that the aliens need our water to fuel their ships, but I’ll bet my house that you didn’t choose to watch this movie for an intelligent plot, and it’s a good job really because you won’t find that here. Minimal dialogue and dizzying action scenes are the order of the day in an overall conventional albeit entertaining offering.
Taking the unusual perspective from the soldiers point of view, Battle: Los Angeles follows Marine Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) who having recently planned his retirement is thrown back into the mix to lead a new platoon on a mission to rescue civilians from a police station with a time limit of three hours, as the Air Force plan to bomb that particular area. After a string of unforeseen circumstances, events take a turn for the worse and the group must do all they can to survive and escape the area with dwindling ammunition and facing an enemy that the world has never seen before.
Writing that plot synopsis was like Deja Vu; the story follows a well trodden path with characters that have been seen countless times before. The staff sergeant who’s close to retirement but brought back for one last mission, the solider who’s brother was killed in action, the one who has a wife back home and they’re expecting their first child, the headstrong female who’s more of a man than half the team; you get the idea. Eckhart (known better as Harvey “Two Face” Dent from The Dark Knight) is the shining star in an otherwise forgettable bunch, even though there is a feeble attempt at making us care about the characters. But after an hour, it’s hard to tell who’s who and why they’re important. The apparent dominant force of the aliens makes each and every one of them look expendable, so it seems a little pointless trying to become emotionally attached to any of them.
Speaking of the aliens, their design is nothing special unfortunately. After reading an article that, in hindsight was clearly a marketing ploy, stated they would be “unlike anything you’ve ever seen before”, I felt a little cheated. The armour looks like something a science whiz threw together from scrap found at a junk yard, and the ships resembled those seen previously in District 9 and Independence Day. It seems to have been influenced by other movies too; the shakiness of the camera is reminiscent of Cloverfield and the destroyed location would not look out of place in Black Hawk Down or (at a stretch) the video game franchise Call of Duty. A large number of other reviewers have complained that this particular style of camera work was dizzying and annoying, but it’s no where near as bad as they make it out to be. It was always the directors intention to give the film a documentary-like feel, and he succeeds admirably. Admittedly, there are times when the cameraman seems to have only just discovered the zoom function and messes with it like an excited child, but overall it’s effective in the battle scenes and brings a level of intensity that hasn’t been seen in a 2011 release as of yet.
Intensity is a key factor in a film that relies heavily on its action, and Battle: LA has it by the (space)ship load: the explosion count makes Michael Bay’s movies look like your neighbours cheap firework display on a drizzly New Years Eve. It’s loud, unrelenting and sometimes laughably ridiculous. One scene in particular stood out above the rest as “dumbest option to do in a particular situation, but we’ll do it anyway!” involving an escape on a bus. The real problem with the action is that is so frequent that after about an hour, it all gets a little dull. Aliens shooting at soldiers that don’t know the enemies location, so constantly shout” WHERE THE HELL IS IT COMING FROM?!” can only be entertaining for a certain amount of time, and they regularly outstay their welcome meaning the runtime is longer than it probably should be. There are scenes that attempt to create bonds between characters, but are eye-rollingly, gooey patriotic speeches that are cornier than the fields in Signs. Luckily, the pyrotechnic guy felt the same and an explosion is never too far away.
Battle: Los Angeles is the perfect Summer blockbuster: dialogue you’ve heard a million times before and action sequences that obviously eat up the majority of the budget. So it’s a little bewildering why it was released in March, which is usually reserved for the Summer movie rejects. Nevertheless, it promises a forgettable night of entertainment and delivers with flying colours.