Admittedly, I wasn’t expecting much walking into Battle: Los Angeles. After reading some very poor reviews on the internet, my hopes weren’t high. That being said, the trailers did look somewhat good and I was pretty interested in seeing some of the effects that had been so openly showcased in the previews. All in all, I tried to go in with an open mind and while the film wasn’t the piece of trash that everyone made it out to be, it’s not exactly what I’d call a good film.
Like so many other alien invasion films do, the film follows a squad of marines as they try to fight off the impending alien invasion that threatens to destroy their planet. I know, it sounds like a log line but trust me, the story doesn’t get much deeper than that. Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) leads the charge as a veteran marine who plans on retiring until he is called into assist with the current situation.
He’s joined by a few other soldiers like Second Lieutenant William Martinez (Ramón Rodríguez), and Air Force intelligence Technical Sergeant Elena Santos (Michelle Rodriguez). None of this really matters though since character development doesn’t exist here.
Our group of hardened marines are tasked with evacuating any civilians that may still be located in Santa Monica. Of course, if you haven’t already guessed, getting in is the easy part. It’s getting out that will be the challenge. As our soldiers watch helplessly as the invaders start decimating cities around the world, they realize that they may be the last hope for civilization.
It sounds cliche and it is, but then again, most alien invasion films follow a very formulaic path and Battle: Los Angeles is no different, its riddled with cliches. The lack of originality does hurt the film but I’d be foolish to say that it isn’t exciting. There’s enough mayhem and firefights here to make the film enjoyable, just know that it requires you to leave your brain at the door.
Part of what makes the film work is the fact that it puts us right in the action. I’ve seen many critics compare it to The Hurt Locker in this sense. We’re part of the fight, we’re right on the ground with the soldiers the whole way through. It makes the whole invasion feel a bit more authentic and by embedding the viewer in the fight and telling the story through the eyes of the marines, it makes us feel more anxious, excited and unsettled.
Perhaps that’s one of the things that does distinguish the film a bit, it’s the “you are right there” perspective that makes it feel a bit different from other alien invasion films like Independence Day and it’s that perspective that makes it work. Director Jonathan Liebsman‘s over reliance on hand-held cameras and the often chaotic (maybe even epileptic) nature of the camerawork may put people off but personally, I think it strengthened the film and made for a more immersive and engrossing experience.
Pacing is also pretty good. The film moves quite swiftly and is often very watchable. The fighting rarely lets up and the threat always feels imminent and real. It’s both a frenetic and visceral movie and one that like I said before, is mostly entertaining. Things start off pretty quickly and the film rarely lets up. While the writing may be a bit dull, there’s enough action and fighting here to ensure that there is never a boring moment.
In terms of acting, Eckhart is really the only one given any character development and he’s really the only one who is able to do anything with his role. His character is tough, intense and serious. Eckhart makes him feel authentic and he does an admirable job, barking out his no nonsense orders as he struggles to keep humanity from falling to the aliens.
The other actors do alright as well but the film moves so fast that there really isn’t much time for character development. And this hurts the film in that when characters do die, it’s hard to really feel anything, since we never really got to know them. Liebsman’s attempts to pull at our heartstrings simply come off as laughable.
The script includes the token character types and it’s overly lazy. Other than Eckhart’s Michael Nantz, the other marines are more or less insignificant. Even Nantz isn’t that well written and most of the reason he stands out is because not only does he have the most screen time but also because Eckhart has a recognizable face and is a strong actor. There’s a lot of one-dimensionality here and the overly cheesy dialogue and often generic war movie jargon doesn’t help the cause.
Other problems in the script arise when it comes to the actual aliens. They’re really not that cool and are far too generic. Their design is pretty laughable and the ideas behind them are just not well fleshed out. Their objectives aren’t clear and they are never fully explained. Admittedly, the aliens can cause some major destruction but that’s really all there is to admire about them. Simply put, they’re boring and in a film where the plot revolves around an alien invasion, that isn’t a good thing.
The real highlight here are the effects which are absolutely excellent. The war torn Los Angeles looks astonishingly real and the CGI here is very well done. That being said, as impressive as it all is, it can’t make up for the cliches, lack of character development and poor narrative which offers nothing in the way of depth.
Call it a popcorn film if you will but Battle: Los Angeles accomplishes what it set out to do. There are explosions, chaotic firefights, tons of yelling and plenty of mayhem that will keep you entertained for the full runtime. It’s a fun ride and if you’re in the mood for some alien invasion thrills, check this one out.
Sony has brought us another spectacular transfer with Battle: Los Angeles and for a film that is heavy on action and effects, it’s a good thing that it has an appropriate transfer to back it up. Visually the film is absolutely stunning. It’s razor sharp and crisp and clear with every shot. Facial detail is especially impressive as are explosions. Sharp contrast and well balanced black levels round out the transfer with the only real downside being how fake the aliens look in HD.
Audio is even better and this is a film that practically begs for a strong home theatre system. From the moment the viewer is placed in the chaotic urban war zone, it’s an immersive experience with explosions and bullets constantly assaulting the sound field. Loud and dynamic, this is the way that action movies should sound. Dialogue is always centred perfectly and never gets drowned out in the chaos. Bass is tremendous and bombs going off in the distance will rock the room. It’s an energetic and heavy soundtrack that will give your speakers a healthy workout.
When it comes to special features, here’s what we get.
- Command Control: This is basically a picture in picture commentary track that gives viewers a look at some behind the scenes material. It can be watched with the film or on its own. We get interviews, behind the scenes footage, storyboard comparisons etc. Overall, not a bad watch if you’re interested in the film.
- Behind the Battle: Cast and crew discuss the style of the film for about six minutes in what feels like more of a filler piece.
- Aliens in L.A.: With this feature, we get about 20 minutes of footage that looks at the aliens and their creation. Considering the aliens aren’t exactly all that impressive to begin with, you may want to skip this one.
- Preparing for Battle: A look at how the actor’s prepared physically for their roles.
- Boot Camp: A look at the boot camp that the actors had to attend.
- Creating L.A. in LA: For five minutes we get to see how they transformed Louisiana into L.A.
- Directing the Battle: A look at Director Jonathan Liebesman’s presentations that got him the job
- The Freeway Battle: A quick, yet interesting look at how they did one of the key action sequences.
- Battle: Los Angeles PS3 Wallpaper.
- Resistance 3 PS3 Demo: Big bonus for those with a PS3!
- DVD Copy.
If you’re looking for pure entertainment, it would be hard to go wrong with Battle: Los Angeles. It’s a dumb movie, but it’s hard to say that it’s not fun. The film disregards plot, character development and writing and instead goes for firefights, explosions and impressive effects. On one hand, it works. That being said, it’s still a movie and a movie with a shoddy plot, non-existent character development and too many cliches is not a good film, not by any means.
While Battle: Los Angeles is ultimately forgettable and won’t stay with you for too long after your initial viewing, it should serve up enough alien ass kicking to keep you pinned to your seat for the full runtime. Plus, it’s no where near as frustrating as Skyline.
Zero character development, cringe worthy dialogue and an incredibly thin/weak plot make Battle: Los Angeles a film that will soon be forgotten.