It seems to me that an early Spring isn’t the only thing Punxsutawney Phil foreshadowed on Groundhog’s Day. The release of BATTLE: LOS ANGELES seems to have kicked open the doors for Summer blockbusters before Spring has even officially begun. The film’s marketing centered almost entirely on the eye catching special effects and action heavy moments of the film and rightfully so. BATTLE; LOS ANGELES is heavy on both action and melodrama and is extremely reminiscent of previous alien invasion flicks. The scale tips more in favor of awesome action sequences and begs the audience to turn their thinking caps down the deeper into the film they get.
SSgt. Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) is an Iraq veteran returning after a tour in which his whole team had been killed except for him and he’s returning home to retire. Before he can he is thrown into the front lines under 2nd Lt. William Martinez (Ramon Rodriguez) as Earth is mysteriously being attacked by alien lifeforms that appear to have one goal in mind, wiping out the human race. Martinez and Nantz lead a platoon of Marines to a police station to rescue a group of survivors of the initial attack before the military completely levels that area. The invasion persists relentlessly to a point the platoon must make a stand to stop the aliens from taking over Los Angeles.
BATTLE: LOS ANGELES is just a blast, plain and simple. It’s comprised almost entirely of badass action sequences with some short scenes of dialogue to give the audience some form of breather. The slow scenes to some extent drag the movie down since there are so many different characters they want to give their time to shine. At some point it becomes easier to write most of them off as just fodder for the action scenes rather than caring about rather or not they survive. Aaron Eckhart and Ramon Rodriguez are the only two soldiers you end up caring about along with the civilians. Even with the civilians the ones you really don’t want to see get hurt are the kids, but everyone in the film is given their moment on screen to make an impact.
The action scenes are the star of the film; taking some very non-subtle cues from films like DISTRICT 9 and to a lesser extent THE HURT LOCKER. Each and every scene where stuff is blowing up and bullets are flying are extremely tense and exciting and sets a very clear tone where you are never sure who is gonna bite the dust and when. The scenes play out more like a war film than alien invasion but since it is an alien invasion the camera work adds to the excitement and puts you right into the action. The other comparison being made which is entirely accurate is that it looks and feels like a sci fi shooter videogame. The plot is nothing more than a device to put these characters in line for the insane and relentless action. More than once during the movie I felt just a sense of being overwhelmed by the intensity of the action which I give huge props to any film that can make me tense up in a sense of dread and excitement as soon as the bullets start flying.
The weaknesses of the film are evident in the script. It’s full of cheesy army-speak and clichés that all sync perfectly with the cliché storylines they attempt to give each character. Watching the soldiers deliver these lines can both be unintentionally funny and groan inducing but also ‘somewhat’ effective at certain points. The believability of the situation is already stretched pretty thin and the dialogue doesn’t carry much weight throughout the film. That being said, I didn’t care because I had nothing but fun with almost every aspect of the film. I have my wits about me enough to recognize the flaws and then make the distinction that they didn’t matter because the action won me over completely. Oh, and Michelle Rodriguez is in the movie as the tough fiery Latina; apparently Alice Braga wasn’t available. Rodriguez has never once elevated a movie’s quality and she doesn’t break stride here; she’s bad and there’s no specific reason why she HAD to be in the movie as I’m sure the box office won’t spike for her name recognition alone.
Hats off to the director, Jonathan Liebesman, for not only for crafting a very enjoyable film, but for conducting action scenes that are both frenetic in nature without being incomprehensible. The only flaw is seeing a soldier get annihilated but not being 100% sure who it was getting blown to bits some of the time. Most of the time they set up the demise with a quick close up right before the character is snuffed out but in the beginning there are so many people on screen at once it’s hard to make a distinction. There is so much going on in each action scene that any coherence to them at all is something to applaud.
This is an alien invasion movie so plausibility is already out the window. One of my complaints, small as it may be didn’t occur to me until after I replayed the film in my head. I don’t want to explain it too in depth so I don’t spoil and ending that I’m sure many will inevitably expect anyway. My complaint is about the ferocity and persistence at which the aliens attack mixed with the timeline of the events within the movie; once you see the film the complaint might come into context and be a little clearer. Once the invasion begins it becomes evident almost immediately how over matched and unprepared the military is and while I liked the direction it took towards the end I didn’t think it was handled as slick as I’d have liked. It was a breath of fresh air they didn’t include a scene of humans having to travel to outer space to disable the aliens defenses but some will groan that the inevitable “let’s let a veterinarian quickly dissect the alien so we can figure out how to kill them” scene.
There are two key scenes that absolutely won me over. The first is the initial invasion as the meteor-like objects are falling from the sky and crashing into the ocean even as the military is being deployed. The visuals in these scenes are both amazing to look at, haunting and carry an amazing sense of tension to them. The second is the initial gunfight as the marines enter the city; the quiet before the storm is really effective and makes the explosion of action very effective. The third is a key standoff between the marines and a group of aliens that are armed with a truly devastating piece of weaponry. The special effects and the directing in these scenes are worth the price of admission alone. These are the three specific scenes that established the incredibly tense tone of every action scene that preceded and followed.
In the end BATTLE: LOS ANGELES is a very fun and intense feast for the eyes as well as an assault on the senses. It’s an exciting yet cheesy hybrid of DISTRICT 9′s excellent action scenes and the overall personality of INDEPENDENCE DAY. The film cruises on the strength of the action sequences and will be memorable because of them. BATTLE: LOS ANGELES won me over for getting to the point quickly and often without asking me to do anything but sit back and enjoy the fireworks and I did just that.