What is initially thought to be a meteor shower turns out to be an alien invasion, as the falling objects amass on the coastlines of major cities around the world. Called in to help evacuate Santa Monica, a Marine unit finds itself fighting its way out of the battle zone before a bomb strike that will level the area.
What we thought:
That synopsis sounds like the perfect premise for a video game. Just saying that upfront.
The opening spiel of Battle: Los Angeles (directed by South African-made-good-in-Hollywood filmmaker Jonathan Liebesman) is pretty compelling viewing. We're told via news soundbites and variously out-of-focus handheld flash-frames that shit is going down big-time. When the opening montage ends with a statement insinuating that Los Angeles is the final stand on the entire Western Seaboard – and it must be held at all costs – you're primed for what surely must be an epic movie of massive scale and scope.
What Battle: LA gets right is the action thrill-ride. Hardly two minutes goes by where there isn't something being blown up, shot, run from, run to or just plain aggressively looked at. Yes, there's lots of aggression in this movie. It is a war movie after all (not, as Roger Ebert inferred, an sci-fi movie) ... even if it has very little actual blood.
The action sequences and shootouts – even if they're a bit confusing at times – deliver a sense of chaos that one can only assume is appropriate in a war environment. Once or twice the film even gets close to feeling as visceral and knuckle-whitening as the battle scenes in HBO's Band of Brothers. These action scenes pretty much blend into each other.
Just as well, 'cause when the movie does occasionally take a breath to offer some expository dialogue, you'll wish they'd all been killed anyway. Every known Marines-in-action cliché is thrown onto the page here, from the sarge with a dodgy, shameful past, the green lieutenant who's never seen combat, the innocent civilians who display more heroism than some of the troops, and the utterly faceless enemy. Literally.
The script, in terms of dialogue, is a turkey of note. There is no redeeming social or political commentary; no character you really need to care about, despite Aaron Eckart's best efforts; and there's no real sense of self-awareness either. But if you were expecting that, you might have better luck renting Starship Troopers.
That film posits the army as a tool for propagandistic ends and more, whereas Battle: LA does come across mostly as a tip of the hat to the military – to soldiers who do go out on the line and "get the job done" in the face of some crazy shit.
Probably the best creative choice made is the film's choice to never move away from the small marines unit in question. It keeps the story small within what has been established as a huge backdrop. The urgency with which Los Angeles needs to be defended never really comes to the forefront again, which will disappoint those who bought into the initial ad campaign, but actually works in the film's favour. There are no Roland Emmerich-sized battles to see here.
There's a lot wrong with Battle: Los Angeles. A lot. But if the truth be told, guys will love it. It's 114 minutes of big explosions, guns, aliens and short talky moments for bathroom breaks. It doesn't ask too much of the old noggin, though, and if you can look past the laziest characterisation imaginable, you'll be OK. Beer and popcorn Saturdays will never... no, strike that – will ALWAYS be the same. Woo-ha!