MOVIE REVIEW: Battle: Los Angeles (2011)

SUMMARY: A unit of US Marines is deployed to an invaded Los Angeles where they face an alien threat.

RATING:

PROS: Fast-paced, fun action movie.

CONS: Often, the dialogue slows things down between gunshots.

Battle: Los Angeles is a film that I’ve been waiting to see for a long time, ever since the first reports came out of San Diego Comic Con last year. While it’s not going to rise to the level of something like District 9, the film does get props for taking the concept seriously and presenting a fairly well done action film that never felt boring or anything other than what it was supposed to be: marines vs. aliens.


There’s a lot to this movie that I really liked, and it’s the type of science fiction film that I’ve been wanting to see for a while now: an intelligently done invasion film.

Let’s ignore the big argument for a moment: the feasibility of a manned invasion of a planet, when you can just bomb from the safety of orbit. In this regard, Battle: LA has some silly moments, but by doing it any other way, we’d have a film with meteors striking the human population, and that’s just not as much fun to watch.

Battle: LA is smart in that it turns a major event into a really small one, cutting down on the context to a small group of Marines who are tasked with rescuing a couple of civilians from a police station. They move in, guns at the ready, and the shooting starts. The last film about an unknown threat with shaking camera work was Cloverfield, but this film is already something that feels like it would be worth re-watching more than a couple of times.

There’s no context to the alien invasion, no concrete explanations (a television pundit talks about how they are after Earth’s water, but the reliability of pundits is always in question) or any outside perspective: this film is focused on what the marines and their mission. Get in, shoot things, complete the mission and get out. And here, the film does its job wonderfully.

The action in this film isn’t necessarily something that’s completely original (but then again, neither is the film’s premise), but combined with the camera work, and urban combat that was clearly inspired by combat videos of Iraq and Afghanistan and the science fiction angle, it was surprisingly fun to watch as the marines moved from street to street.

The film falters the most when it strays off of its core. There’s bits and pieces here to the characters, fleshing out each and every Marine stereotype – the haunted leader, wet-behind-the-ears rookie, the wiseass, etc. – and the dialogue (although having gone to a military school, the dialogue felt more realistic than other films that I’ve seen). Aaron Eckhart drops in a speech that drops the movie out of gear for a little while, but things pick up again with the last act.

One of the things that I really liked with District 9 was the aliens that they put together for the film, and if there’s one thing that I really liked here, it was the aliens. We see them briefly at first, then more and more as the action picks up, and it’s nice to see that this isn’t an invasion of people with funny ears: these guys feel wholly alien. More than that, the production team took a lot of trouble to make them a bit of a serious threat. These aliens are mean, they’re organized, and equipped for combat, and they feel more like an invading military than simply someone to shoot at.

The bottom line here is that Battle: Los Angeles understands what it is: Marines fighting an invading alien army, and it takes it seriously. Ignoring some of the more ridiculous elements to it, it’s a fun, exciting, and at points, interesting. It feels like the summer blockbuster season has come in early, but if the typically Hollywood blockbuster was more like this, I’d be a happy camper.

16 thoughts on “MOVIE REVIEW: Battle: Los Angeles (2011)”

  1. Thank you! All these critics who know nothing about science fiction are tearing it apart. Rodger Ebert was especially scathing. I thought this was a great movie. Not a masterpiece, but it never was designed to be a masterpiece either. 

  2. Intentions are particularly important, I think: this pretty much came out as intended, I suspect: action, a bit of story, etc. I think Ebert missed the point by a lot. Yes, the film isn’t high art, but it didn’t have to be. And, it captured the weekend box office with $36 million, no small part due to the type of film that it is. 

  3. You were totally right about the aliens too. They were sooo cool! The machine/organic hybrid aspect was great and their technology was wicked cool. I really hope all the negative reviews don’t prevent a sequel. I would love Battle: London or something like that. 

  4. “Intentions are particularly important, I think.”

    I wish more people (myself included) understood that.  It’s too easy to fault something for *not* being what you thought it would be.

  5. @Nick: I don’t think that reviews will make a difference (Just look at Transformers 3), but the box office return will. The film captured $36 million this past weekend, and depending on what it was made for and if the studeo warrents it, it wouldn’t surprise me. I suspect that they could do a whole number of movies, but if they do that, I hope that they’ll expand their view a bit more – despite it not being in there, I’d like to see more about why they’re invading, etc. 

     

    @John: Indeed. Films like Transformers aren’t *intended* to be high art. This one isn’t as well, and I think that this helps understand why things are done the way they’re done. Avatar is the same way – it’s big and dumb, but despite that, it got a lot of people out to the theaters. 

  6. @Andrew, RE: Avatar

    Careful – there’s a difference between what a film aspires to be vs. whether it is entertaining.  Agreed Avatar didn’t try to be high art, but past reading/movie-going experiences made Avatar feel pedestrian and predictable.

  7. Completely agreed, and I’m not the biggest fan of Avatar, but I think that a lot of the pedestrian and predictable elements were left in because attracted audiences – the romance element, the military science fiction elements. It’s a shame, really, because that film could have been so much better if they tightened up their prospective audience a bit. 

  8. I think there is definitely potential for growth if they choose to make a franchise out of this. Maybe conflict on a wider scale, across more terrain with some characters from the first but a new cast as well. I can see Michelle Rodriguez making a return, her character would be pivotal in a sequel. Plus how could would it be to see the alien equivalent of tanks dueling with Abrams? 

  9. If the films do exceptionally well, I can see something like that. So long as they stick with what worked, and avoid the silly stuff, I’ll be happy with another film or two, if anything, to get a little more background. Personally, I want to see them take any future installments and trend more towards District 9 than Transformers. 

  10. Loved it! Even the camera running along side the Marines didn’t bother me, so don’t listen to the critics when they talk about the “shaky camera” — it’s not bad.

  11. I can’t imagine why the writers of Battle: Los Angeles wouldn’t want to go all experimental and avant-guarde, especially when flims like Aronofksky’s The Fountain are so well-received by critics and audiences.  

    Be what you are baby!  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being entertained.  When I want my soul sucked out of my eye-sockets I read Blood Meridian or The Brothers Karamazov and when I want something fun, fast-paced, and stimulating I don’t watch Solaris (either version).  

    Excellent review.  

  12. For those saying Roger Ebert doesn’t understand Sf:Roger was active in fandom at one time, writing for Richard Lupoffs fanzine and actually publishing a couple stories in the SF mags.

    And I agree pretty much with his review. A very dumb movie. Hollywood just has no respect for Sf fans and as long as they make this kind of film profitable its all we will get rather than intelligent attempts like The Adjustment Bureau(not a perfect film but one with some signs of intelligence behind it).

  13. “a film with meteors striking the human population, and that’s just not as much fun to watch”

    There’s more to this than just entertainment. It’s science being missing from science fiction – 1 thin excuse after another, or no explanation at all – of why someone would invade rather than bombard. It also speaks about how we have never reconciled to the destructive capacity of nuclear weapons – how they can render the human qualities of courage, perseverance & empathy irrelevant.

  14. Saying a sci-fi action movie can have lousy characters and script as long as it has good action is such a cop-out. Did Inception have a lame story? Did the bourne movies have shallow protagonists? Don’t defend movies that doesn’t deserve it, it just justifies hollywood thinking they can throw any crap on the screen and the masses will love it for its flashy explosions.

     

    Just say you liked the CG but that the movie is garbage… maybe they’ll just start putting out 45-min long films with only special effects, thats the only thing that matters anyway.

  15. Boy this was a TERRIBLE movie. SF? Give me a break. It was a war movie with some thin scraping of SF. Marines versus a bunch of stupid aliens with the deus ex machina of a central command center.

     I guess it resonates with Americans. An enemy that you can kill without any moral complexity, or just kill while trying to find their “weak spot”, with WOW an easy to find base!

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