It’s a good thing I wasn’t expecting much going into this movie because it offers the bare minimum for a uber-patriotic action flick without supplying a single original idea, moment, or story element.
Battle: Los Angeles is little more than an excuse to cash in on critical and box office successes such as District 9 and Avatar. And you don’t have to look very hard to see where it “borrowed” most of its plot. Think of it as Independence Day meets Cloverfield meets a Marine recruitment film (with slightly better special effects).
The film opens by introducing us to all the major players of the unit who will be thrust into battle during an alien invasion of Los Angeles. Staff Sgt. Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) is the war-weary veteran with one foot out the door, Ramon Rodriguez is the fresh-faced Lieutenant straight out of the academy, Noel Fisher is the goofy wet-behind-the-ears Private, and so on. If you think these characters sound familiar, you’re right.
Aside from the short sequences where they are introduced each of the characters, other than Eckhart, is interchangeable (and pretty damn forgettable). Even before the battle begins you’ll know who will survive and who won’t make it home. Along the way the unit will also pick up some scared civilians (Michael Peña, Bridget Moynahan, Bryce Cass) and a sassy hot-shot pilot (Michelle Rodriguez) ready to do her part to save the world.
Not content to let the movie play out what should be a suspenseful end-of-the-world battle to fight off an alien invasion, screenwriter Christopher Bertolini hamfistedly inserts contrived situations in an attempt to add tension where it isn’t needed (and doesn’t particularly work well). The script give Eckhart’s character a checkered past and puts him in a new unit which doesn’t trust him, with a commander with no battlefield experience, and which includes the brother (Cory Hardrict) of an officer who died under Nance’s last command. Yeah, I’ve seen Kate Hudson movies that weren’t this contrived.
The action scenes work well-enough, and there’s plenty to be had. Those who don’t like shaky cam might wish to stay away (you’ll get a steady diet of it here), and the film’s strength is it does drop you into the middle of the action with this small group of soldiers fighting for their lives.
The CGI effects are competently done as well, even if it’s hard sometimes to distinguish between the aliens and their machines. But, as with some of the action sequences, there seems to be something missing. Maybe it’s because we’ve seen this done before, many times, and almost always better. The film is also as strong a pro-military propaganda film as anything I’ve seen since Michael Bay‘s Pearl Harbor. Had these Marines started pissing lighting and crapping thunder I wouldn’t have been surprised. But then again, nothing about this movie surprised me.
Battle: Los Angeles isn’t an awful film. It just feels flat, like everyone involved is simply going through the motions. It’s a live-action video game with some truly awful dialogue thrown in to give the actors more to do than fire their guns and determinedly stare into the camera as they march their way through the predictable elements of the story while fighting for truth, justice, and the American way. Are we sure Michael Bay wasn’t involved with the making of this film?