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