Movie Review – Battle: Los Angeles (2011)
by HELEN GEIB
The audience for a movie like Battle: Los Angeles is self-selecting. This is a movie that doesn’t need critics to draw people’s attention to it or correct mistaken impressions. It’s been heavily advertised and the advertising shows just what kind of movie it is. If it looks like a movie you’d enjoy, then you should see it because you’ll almost certainly be proved correct. It looked that way to me and I was. Conversely, if the advertising didn’t make you want to see it, I have no intention of trying to convince you otherwise.
Having said all that, I’m still going to write a review. Read on if you’d like to compare your assessment to mine, or confirm your disinclination.
Battle: Los Angeles is a small band trapped behind enemy lines movie, alien invasion variety. It has the typical strengths and the typical weaknesses of its type. It does nothing you haven’t seen before, but it does some of it quite well.
The alien invasion lands at the Santa Monica beach and moves inland killing everyone in its path. The small band is a Marine platoon quickly whittled down by encounters with the enemy, a few stragglers from decimated units, and a handful of locals who didn’t make it out in time. The story is their difficult push through enemy-controlled streets to the relative safety of the temporary military headquarters several miles away. As the casualties mount, the survivors become increasingly determined to find a way to stop retreating and fight back.
Predictably, characterization is not one of the film’s strengths. The plot consists almost entirely of the band being shot at, trying to avoid being shot at, shooting back- and fighting off encroaching panic and desperation during the brief moments of respite in between. This leaves little room for character development to begin with. Unfortunately the screenwriter’s solution to this inherent problem of the genre is to fall back on an old expedient: writing the characters as achingly familiar types. There is the combat weary sergeant days from retirement; the newly minted lieutenant in his first command; the fresh-faced recruit; the guy about to be married; the tech specialist, doubling as the woman soldier; the desperately caring medic; and so on and on. The all-too-familiar result is a cast of characters who are so generic as to be largely interchangeable.
Granted, some of the characters/actors make more of an impression than others. However, the only one who could not have been easily written out of the film is Staff Sergeant Nantz (Aaron Eckhart), the band’s leader and the film’s main character and hero. Small pluses aside Battle: Los Angeles has two big things going for it. Eckhart is one of them. He sells the drama even when there’s no good reason why we should buy it.
There other big thing the movie has going for it is, again predictably, the overall look of the film, and particularly the special effects and production design. Hollywood boasts many accomplished craftsmen and it’s clear that a good number of them worked on this production. The aliens, alien ships, and Santa Monica devastated are all excellent. The effects in the action scenes are also as good as you’d expect from a big Hollywood movie. (Although be warned that like the rest of the film, the fighting is shot in shaky-cam.)
A final criticism, because it’s something that consistently annoys me about war and other disaster movies. The situation is dramatic. It is very dramatic in and of itself. Hokey interpersonal conflict is not needed, and in fact, a distraction from the real drama and a dead weight on the action.
2 1/2 stars
There’s a scene in Skyline where the trapped band hears gunfire from the street below their penthouse hiding place. They rush out and catch a glimpse of a car driving fast while spraying bullets at the invading aliens. I wanted to be watching that movie. In Battle: Los Angeles I was, and it was as infinitely superior as I thought it would be.