MOVIE REVIEW: Battle: Los Angeles
BATTLE: LOS ANGELES-- 3 STARS
The hardest part in pulling off any alien invasion movie is the "cheese factor" that keeps them from being taken seriously. With today's special effects, there's no limit to what can be done. This ain't the Forbidden Planet-style 1950's and, yet, it seems like it's been a long time since 1996's Independence Day and even 2005's War of the Worlds were huge hits.
After those two, though, you have a pile of Skyline, The Day the Earth Stood Still remake, and dozens of bad SyFy Channel movies. Because we've never had a real alien invasion (shut up X-Files fans) on this planet, all alien invasion movies are innately preposterous. Yet, for a movie, the threat of aliens coming to Earth needs to feel believable and plausible to hook onto the anxiety, wonder, and fear of the audience. Be too obscure and you're Battlefield: Earth. Be too weird and you're Mars Attacks.
The other element to the "cheese factor" is point-of-view. The reactions and actions of the characters we follow in an alien invasion movie need to be as plausible and believable as the alien threat. For every Will Smith, there's a Jeff Goldblum and his quirky Jewish dad. For every President Lonestarr.. err... Whitmore, we digress back to Randy Quaid's "Cousin Eddie"-act cropduster (but, hey, we all cheered like school kids anyway 15 years ago).
The new release, Battle: Los Angeles shoots 50% and bats .500 for those two "cheese factor" elements that hold back alien invasion movies. It's alien threat is impressive but weakly developed, but it's point-of-view is rock solid. Our threat is the form of an undetected meteor shower that is strangely slowing down and conveniently hitting off the coastlines of major cities around the world. From those impacts, rise an unknown and deadly technological threat that soon begins to invade the coastal cities, destroying the military opposition and people in their way. Their motive seems to be colonization and a need for something, naturally. If that sounds kind of thin, it's because it is.
What really works for Battle: Los Angeles is the other half, its point-of-view. Battle: Los Angeles follows a single U.S. Marine Corps platoon through their first day of the invasion. Led by 2nd Lt. Martinez (Ramon Rodriguez of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen) and Staff Sgt. Nantz (Aaron Eckhart of The Dark Knight), the mission of "E" Company, 2nd Battalion of the 5th Marines is to go into the invaded downtown to a fallen police station in order to rescue civilian survivors and get them out before the Air Force levels Santa Monica with a massive bombardment. The main focus is the veteran Nantz, a tortured, yet hard leader who has a reputation for losing men in combat in Afghanistan. He signs the papers to hang 'em up and retire, but is thrust back into action because of the invasion with men that don't trust him.
The action and point-of-view always stays on them. We, the audience, hear about, but never see, the big battles and big picture taking place across town or the world. Our plot and attention is not split and spread to several places or groups of people around the country and world. We stick with one group the whole way through and that's the movie's strength. There are no comic relief characters or stubborn sticks-in-the-mud citizens. Everyone we get to keep up with in Battle: Los Angeles are stalwart, dedicated heroes who never give up. Even if some of them have to play the Star Trek "red shirt" role, Aaron Eckhart's chiseled cleft chin of brick makes up for them. The uniform suits him and he makes one heck of a believable Marine and hero to root for.
Of course, the plot here is secondary. We come for the action. The movie and director Jonathan Liebesman deliver the right balance of courage, taut suspense, and spectacle to feed that need. The comparisons of Black Hawk Down meets District 9 and Independence Day are spot on. Eckhart, Rodriguez, and other co-stars like Michelle Rodriguez (The Fast and the Furious), Bridget Moynahan (I, Robot), Michael Pena (Crash), and hip-hop star Ne-Yo do their duty and flex their patriotic muscle. Go see Battle: Los Angeles for the compelling point-of-view and good action. Stay home if you're looking for a science-fiction study.
LESSON #1: THERE IS NO WARRIOR QUITE LIKE A UNITED STATES MARINE-- This whole film is virtually a chivalrous Hallmark card to the United States Marine Corps and a well deserved one. They have a different mentality, dedication, and drive than other soldiers, warriors, and keepers of the peace. They're the real deal and their numerous acts of courage and honor shown throughout the movie rouses the patriotic pride inside of you.
LESSON #2: FIND YOUR ENEMY'S WEAKNESS AND EXPLOIT IT-- Whether it would be a sports team, a fight opponent in the ring, that online teenage video game player, or (and especially) technologically advanced beings from another world, a smart opponent seeks to test and find that enemy's weakness to exploit. This is especially true if you are already losing or if that opponent is bigger, faster, stronger, or smarter than you. There's always one weakness somewhere.
LESSON #3: DOING THINGS FOR THE GREATER GOOD RATHER THAN YOURSELF-- In so many alien invasion movies, and also disaster movies like 2012 or The Day After Tomorrow, there's a lot of showy, macho, and dramatic self-sacrificing going on. There's always that one random guy who either yells "Get out of here!" or "Tell my (pick a family member) I love them!" before biting the big one and saving our main characters to press on and survive. Battle: Los Angeles has its required amount of this as well. Cinematically cheesy or not, especially with the duty of soldiers involved as our characters here, it speaks to the ideal that the greater good is bigger than one man and unselfishness to fight and die for a common cause and not yourself.
LESSON #4: WATCH OTHER ALIEN INVASION MOVIES-- Come on, random movie characters. Haven't we all seen this movie before? Once you watch the TV reports of sugar-honey-iced-tea going down, don't you know what's going to happen? Get the BLEEP out of town! Don't keep surfing on Santa Monica Beach, dumbasses. Don't keep hanging out at home. Pack up and head for the hills!