I blame “Skyline” for having not seen Battle: Los Angeles previous to last night. Both came out around the same time, both looked tremendous, but then Skyline ruined my anticipation for both films. I’m not sure if the former film influenced people’s reception of the latter, but I do know that there’s a pretty large cloud of negativity that surrounds Battle: LA. I’m not sure why, to be honest, because it’s a solid film. It’s not without minor problems, such as a few scenes of less than stellar computer generated effects, but it’s nowhere near enough to ruin the entire experience. I suppose you could say,especially after reading so many venomous reviews, that I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this film.
Battle: Los Angeles begins right before an invasion by an unknown, inhuman force. Experts mistake the incoming invasion for a meteor shower, so when the giant extra terrestrial beings emerge from the world’s oceans, they’re taken by complete surprise. Sgt. Michael Nantz of the US Marines has just put in his retirement papers, but has agreed to tag along with a young group of privates, and a greenhorn Lt. , to what they believe is an evacuation mission, due to the destruction caused by the meteors in certain areas. Nantz’ last mission didn’t go so well, so he has a stigma hanging over his head, and marines are weary to have him being responsible for their lives. As more and more platoons are rallied, people begin to get the sense that there’s something more than an evacuation happening, and once they land at the Forward Operating Base, they’re let in on the fact that something “not of this world” has invaded major cities throughout the world, and it appears that they’re hear to eradicate the human race for the purpose of colonizing our planet.
One of the things that I think makes this film successful, is the fact that it’s very fast paced, despite having a running time of close to two hours. The action begins early, and only lets up for very few brief moments to allow the viewer to take a breath. The invaders are hard to kill, and it takes everything within these marines’ arsenal to bring them down. This makes for some very exciting gunfights. One good thing is, even though these outer-space invaders’ weapons are surgical grafted onto their arms, they appear to still fire real world ammunition. There are no lasergun fights here, bullets fly, and plenty of shit is blown to bits. I think this was a a wise decision, as if I had to sit through another alien light show, I probably wouldn’t have made it far into the film. The scenarios created often remind me of the great early 2000’s war film “Black Hawk Down”, only with aliens instead of Somalians.
The action is surprisingly gritty and realistic, considering that the film was shot with a PG13 rating in mind. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nothing like Black Hawk Down, or Saving Private Ryan, but people get shot, people get burned, people die. One particularly troubling wound is when a marine is shot in the helmet, though it doesn’t penetrate, it sets his head on fire, and leaves a pretty brutal mark. So, even though it’s not loaded up with gore, if you were expected some cornball off-screen action, you can put those thoughts to rest, because the action in Battle: LA is very exhilarating, and even more to the point, in most cases you can actually see what’s going on. A lot of action based films lately have utilized the handheld shaky cam technique, in order to make the action to appear more exciting, but what it ultimately ends up doing is making it impossible for the viewer to be able to tell what’s going on. Thankfully, director Jonathan Liebesman(Darkness Falls, TCM: The Beginning) opted not to go this route, and it paid off in the end.
If I were to outline any complaints at all, it would be that some of the characters are a little less than memorable. Some might even be downright interchangeable. It makes it hard to develop any kind of sympathy or empathy for a characters’ demise if you have no clue who the hell he/she was in the first place. Luckily not all of the story’s players have this problem, and some recognizable faces put in some fairly decent performances. Aaron Eckhart never quite lived up to the star quality I thought he was capable of the first time I was exposed to him, but he’s still a really solid actor. Some people hate her, but I enjoy Michelle Rodriguez in anything she’s in. It’s not just be cause I find her extremely attractive either, she just has this level of spunk that appeals to me as a viewer. Unfortunately for her, she was roped with some of the cheesiest dialog of the entire film. Some of it felt like it was due to the constraints of the MPAA rating, some of it may have just been poor writing choices. In any event, she does the best that she can do with the material that she’s given, and I enjoyed her character. Other familiar faces include Jim Parrack from HBO’s True Blood, and Michael Pena from Observe & Report/The Shield.
If, like me, Skyline left a bad taste in your mouth for the science fiction/alien invasion sub genre of film, wash that taste out of your mouth with the surprisingly smooth experience that is Battle: Los Angeles. It’s not a perfect film, by any stretch of the imagination, but it is well crafted and entertaining. There may be a few small problems, like a couple of odd instances of CGI, but nothing even remotely damning enough to ruin the over-all experience. If you’ve been craving some sci-fi action, perhaps this film will tide you over until it’s time to hit the cinemas to see Cowboys & Aliens. I had a blast watching this film, and perhaps if you go into it with an open mind, you will too.