Battle: Los Angeles

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 116 mins
Director: Jonathan Liebesman
Starring: Aaron Eckhart, Michelle Rodriguez, Bridget Moynahan
Genre: Action, Sci-Fi
Country: USA

We hate to say I told you so, Jack Bauer was no sooner off the television when aliens decided they were going to come down and take Los Angeles (and the world) for themselves.  With invasions popping up at various coastline points across the globe it’s up to the military of the world to stop them.  Up first, the United States Marine Corp go head-to-head on the streets of Santa Monica with first contact.

There are fewer things I like better than genre mash-ups, largely because they’re either incredibly entertaining or incredibly bad.  The middle ground is little more than no man’s land for the corpses of a thousand Michael Bay offerings.  Battle: Los Angeles is somewhere between District 13 and Black Hawk Down and as such is right up my street.

The film’s storyline is quite simple, simple enough to read off a billboard on the side of a bus travelling at speed.  This can either be to the film maker’s credit or detriment at times, but it seems to work (for the most part) for B:LA.  The alien invasion movie is definitely one of life’s bigger picture narratives, rarely will there be a movie that carries an alien invasion and yet overshadow it with the touching tell of a couple mid-divorce.  Such things are difficult to pull off and require a delicate touch that genre directors tend not to have.  What this movie has, is focus.  One storyline, stay focused and don’t get distracted…only it does.  And this is where the detriment comes in.  Yes, the narrative is simple…simplistic even (there is a difference) and as such the character’s painted in to drive the narrative are two dimensional, unchallenging and on occasion downright repetitive.  They are a mish-mash of characters we have seen before.  The experienced combat soldier who lost all of his men, the officer school Lieutenant who didn't earn his stripes and is as green as he is frightened, the grieving brother from a large military family, the civilian parent…these are common genre devices, rarely does one movie gather them all together like some sort of stereotypical Avengers, yet Battle: Los Angeles has not only amassed them all but feels confident you’ve never heard their touching story before.  We don’t care.  We have, we’ve heard it before…many…many times and not to sound cold but it’s got a little boring.  Fortunately these cack-handed broad stroke attempts at characterisation don’t last long, though when they’re upon us the dialogue is laughable, and before long we’re back to the most basic of human instincts and the cornerstone of our movies narrative, survival.

Aaron Eckhart (The Dark Knight) as Staff Sergeant Nantz is a very good piece of casting.  He’s got a strong jaw, a hardened presence and a quiet pained way about him that sells the “grieving combative quietly suffering through survivors guilt”.  It’s such a shame his best small moments had to be ruined by poorly constructed dialogue and a score designed to hammer home every last ounce of stolen emotion.  Yet, all in all he carries this hulk of a movie well and could well be an action hero for the next generation now that Bruce (Willis) has proved you can have too much of a good thing with A Good Day To Die Hard not to mention his general old-man right wing grumpiness.  Michelle Rodriguez is cast to give the film a rounded gender feel as the tough talking, hard hitting, and expert shot Air Force pilot Elena Santos.  But her character is even more under developed than the men around her and it makes you wonder if you’re going to cast Michelle Rodriguez only to give her nothing why not make a snip here, and there and change the gender of one of the larger roles and give her that.  Was Ne-Yo (as Corporal Kevin Harris) that essential to the movie?  Still, she’s not the only one short changed but she does have the added bonus of being the character to propel the narrative into the thrilling final act even if she’s a little more subdued than normal.

Issues aside, the direction of Battle: Los Angeles is strong, by far the director's strongest offering.  The film clearly has a mighty budget behind it, yet the director Jonathan Liebesman (Wrath of the Titans) has chosen to not show you too much of what’s taking place up in the sky too early, preferring to make due with (un)steadicam glimpses and peaks here and there, teasing the audiences imagination.  More of this in Hollywood please.  The overwhelming sensation while watching Battle: Los Angeles is how excellent a videogame it would make.  In fact so much of the pleasure derived from the high octane moments came from the idea of what it would be like to play that mission.  An abstract pleasure to say the least but yet an incredibly interesting aesthetic choice.

There’s a lot to like about Battle: Los Angeles, it’s a movie that knows what it is trying to be and doesn’t attempt to overreach yet at the same time it’s damned by its own short arms.  Poor characterisation, recycled support narratives and hokey dialogue hamper what is an otherwise entertaining, explosive, engaging romp through So-Cal all in the name of the human race.  Extermination, not while the USMC is around, hoorah!


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