Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Battle: Los Angeles (2011)

When Battle: Los Angeles premiered two weeks ago, critics went into a frenzy to see who could say the worst thing about the movie.  A pair of awesome trailers had me excited about the film, so much so that it took the #4 spot on my 2011 Most Anticipated List. But I acknowledged that the film would more likely than not be as good as I was hoping. And while its certainly far from being a masterpiece, and not even a good movie, it wasn't the end-of-cinema event that it was made out to be.

The film is about a global alien invasion, but only focuses on the attack on Los Angeles. Staff Sergeant Nantz (Aaron Eckhart), intent on retire, is asked to lead a group of Marines as they evacuate the city as meteors begin to make landfall. But when the meteors bring in alien invaders launching heavy firepower, the mission turns into something much, much more difficult: they're tasked with rescuing civilians left behind enemy lines before Santa Monica is bombed out of existence. This means going head-to-head with the aliens, and since several American cities have already fallen, its up to them to make sure Los Angeles survives.

Battle: Los Angeles has an interesting pitch, combining the war movie and alien invasion genres to create an exciting hybrid film that, as its most often described, is like Black Hawk Down meets Independence Day. Unfortunately, the film has three fatal flaws that keep it from rising above mediocrity. The first is that the characters are generic military stereotypes, with no real personalities or even anything interesting about them at all. Even though their names appear on the screen, they're all instantly forgettable, to the point where within 20 minutes into the film I had completely lost track of who's who. The second problem is that the aliens themselves are boring, suits of metal plating over generic alien bodies. Movies like this, both war films and alien invasion flicks, need a distinguished enemy, but Battle: LA just doesn't deliver that. The biggest problem, though, is that the hybrid plot manifests as nothing more than a collection of cliches: heroic efforts are made, stirring speeches delivered, bombastic strings that are patriotic and emotional, no-man-left-behind. The story never becomes coherent, and worse, it never forges its own identity: the film is simply a collage of other, better movies from both genres.

There are some good things about Battle: LA, though. The fight sequences are generally exciting, with director Jonathan Liebsman best utilizing the handheld-camera technique to recreate the chaos and confusion of battle. Its also really refreshing to see an alien invasion film that doesn't feature the destruction of any major monuments: if the Hollywood sign, Capitol Records building, or anything in any other city in the world was destroyed, we don't ever see it. In fact, the closest we come is a brief shot of the Santa Monica Pier on fire. There are also no Presidents, no ordinary civilians falling in love with reporters, no scientists ranting about how we should have seen this coming. And in that respect, Battle: LA should be celebrated. Maybe someone else will take this approach, but make a better movie of it.

Overall, Battle: LA is a film born from an idea worth exploring, but unfortunately is poorly executed. Hopefully it will provide a great lesson for some other filmmaker who's bold enough to give the idea a second chance.

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