You know how Hollywood war films receive the support of the US military based on how glowing their representation of the armed forces is? Well, in this case, Battle: Los Angeles must have had their complete and utter complicity in every single department.
The film concerns an alien attack on Earth’s major city centres, though thankfully focuses just on LA (gone are the days of the multi-narrative disaster movie, and good riddance). Aaron Eckhart plays Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz, who, having retired only hours before the attack, is called back on board to accompany a group of marines on a search and rescue mission into the ruins of Los Angeles.
The opening ten minutes host an assortment of clichéd war film characterisations. We have the soldier who’s got a pregnant wife at home, another who’s the dorky virgin, one who inadvertently comments on how hot his colleague’s sister is, much to the consternation of the brother, etc etc. Whilst I appreciate a film that takes the time to flesh out some characters, in this case I couldn’t wait for the violence to start so I would be spared from any more war movie tropes.
Battle: Los Angeles plays out a lot like a whole host of current generation first person shooters. This may be primarily because the current trend is for decaying urban environments, but it seems that the attempts of the video game industry to become more cinematic have, in turn, inspired Hollywood. At the very least, I’m sure the digital matte paintings on display in Battle: Los Angeles were created by folks that have done the same for video games.
The special effects are quite decent, though it’s clear that the gritty realism – including handheld cinematography or fuzzy television broadcasts – has helped them cover up the less realistic elements. The fact that hy*drau”lx were responsible for special effects in both Battle: Los Angeles and Skyline isn’t lost on the viewer either – whilst the legal action was resolved, there certainly are more than a few similarities in the alien and spaceship designs. To be fair, this is probably more to do with what’s currently in vogue in the art design world, rather than anything dodgy.
As I hinted earlier, the main flaw with the film would have to be the fact that it’s a marine recruiting commercial disguised as a science fiction movie. Whilst I appreciate the occasional “oorah!” (remembering that even the likes of Avatar tried to appease the masses in the face of a perceived anti-military stance), Battle: Los Angeles takes this to ridiculous levels of absurdity. In what must be the most expensive recruitment drive ever, 70 million dollars has been spent on a movie that lets us know EVERY TEN MINUTES OR SO just how worthwhile/glorious life in the marines can be. The script and indeed Brian Tyler’s score hammer home this message with unceasing regularity, and maybe it all wouldn’t seem quite so sinister if we hadn’t witnessed topical films like Stop-Loss in recent years. It even has the gall to pay lip service to post traumatic stress disorder, but then completely disregard it in the ensuing battles. I can’t press this point enough – Battle: Los Angeles is like Starship Troopers without the irony.
If you can overlook this (and I certainly had difficulty doing so), then what you have left is a fun little sci-fi/war hybrid. There are some genuinely well-staged extended skirmishes, and overall the film is very competently constructed. One wonders if the powers that be were hoping for a potential franchise, with a film set in different major cities. That could be interesting.Rating: