Bryan's Movie Review: BATTLE: LOS ANGELES
Published: March 11, 2011 - 6:32am
Summer movies come earlier and earlier every year; Battle: Los Angeles is a Summer movie through and through. Big and loud with lots of action, explosions, good vs. evil and bad dialogue. It has all the key elements you look for in a popcorn flick but tries earnestly to keep itself grounded in reality.
Reality in an alien invasion movie? Yes, very much so. I have never had the honor of serving in the Armed Forces but these Marines definitely seemed to be the real deal. In fact, many of the extras were played by Marines and while any words coming out of their mouth (and the rest of the cast) was very cliché from a poor screenplay by Christopher Bertolini, the actors certainly conveyed how a platoon cut off might react, regardless of the adversary. Director Jonathan Liebesman (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning) accentuates this aspect with a quasi docu-style and shake cam techniques heartily peppered throughout the film.
Take out the aliens, and this is a classic Army movie where our guys have to overcome the odds against a much larger force. Aaron Eckhart stars as Marine Staff Sgt. Michael Nantz, a soldier who just filed for retirement and has a scarred recent past. Nantz lost his men on his last mission and its spoken about in hushed tones across the base at Camp Pendleton. Prepared to fill out his last few weeks training new recruits he is thrown back into active duty and immediately assigned to a platoon led by fresh out of the academy 2nd Lt. William Martinez (Ramon Rodriguez) when the aliens hit Earth hard. They arrive unexpectedly and target major cities around the world. They are a militaristic force with creatures in mechanized armor and they do not take prisoners.
As his platoon works desperately to clear civilians from Santa Monica, Nantz must instill leadership in Martinez and struggle with the rest of the soldiers who believe he got his men killed back in the Middle East, including the brother of one of the dead soldiers. Along the way, they also pick up other soldiers separated from their commands, including Air Force Technical Sergeant (Michelle Rodriguez). From her, we learn a way to cripple their forces which sets up the final act of the movie.
The aliens are typically seen from a distance with a couple of variations. They are all encased in metal armor going so far as to have their weapons surgically attached to a limb. We know this when our Marines find one and decide to see what makes it tick. The alien tech is a fusion of District 9 design and steampunk mechanics. It is not flashy or even all that alien looking. The ships work on jet propulsion and their firearms are like some thermal bullet, no lasers here. It lends itself well to the gritty realism and the overall scenes are shot rather well on celluloid by cinematographer Lukas Ettlin.
The protracted battle scenes are akin to video games like Modern Warfare. Our Marines constantly engage the enemy for quite lengthy chunks at a time as they try to escape the warzone. The action helps to keep the dialogue down, which is a good thing. The script is so hackneyed and full of every typical jarhead expression we have ever seen that I cringed many times whenever the enemy was not around.
The acting is as serviceable as you might expect from a film such as this but its so filled with standard archetype characters and clichéd expressions that its hard to even objectively grade their performances. We have the flawed veteran, the newly minted leader with no experience, the girl soldier who is just ‘one of the guys’, the doe eyed young recruit and so on down the list. Eckhart gives his character gravitas and has an excellent presence here.
Battle: Los Angeles certainly kicks off the impending Summer slate of big ticket actioners, superheroes come to life and large scale sci-fi with a bang and is worth the price of admission at the theater. I doubt it will be one that will carry much resonance once the Summer movie season is over though. I didn’t have to check my brain at the door but I wish I had checked my ears. In summary, it is the military version of Signs crossed with Independence Day, Cloverfield and Call of Duty video game aesthetics thrown in.