Battle: Los Angeles (2011)
Directed by Jonathan Liebesman
The studio marketing department at Sony deserves some sort of special Oscar for the awe-inspiring trailers they crafted that made Battle: Los Angeles look like an absolute must-see event movie. If the movie had come even close to living up to the dramatic awe of those trailers, we’d have a modern classic on our hands. I strongly suspect this one is going to greatly divide audiences. It actually does pain me that I have to put myself on the side of the naysayers because I’ve been really looking forward to this one.
I’m not the first nor am I going to be the last person to describe Battle: Los Angeles as being like watching someone else playing a video game. People have been saying for years that video games are trying to be more like movies and movies are trying to be more like video games. Call me weird, call me old fashioned, demand I turn in my movie geek credentials, but I prefer my video games to be like video games and my movies to actually be movies. If you’ve ever played Call of Duty or Gears of War or Halo: Reach or a myriad of other military shooter video games I could name, then you’ve already more or less experienced everything Battle: Los Angeles has to offer and probably had more fun being a part of the action rather than a spectator.
Director Jonathan Liebesman has crafted what may very well be the perfect war movie for the ADD video game generation. Meteorites have begun crashing into the ocean just offshore some of the world’s biggest cities. Aliens emerge onshore and begin waging a genocidal ground invasion. A squad of Marines comprised of every soldier cliché in the book who constantly shout lines that sound like ancillary dialogue from a Call of Duty game are sent into the Los Angeles warzone to rescue a few civilians with only three hours to do so before the entire area gets bombed out of existence; in the process they’ll uncover the underground alien command center - how it got there is one of the film’s great mysteries - that if destroyed could potentially turn the tide in humanity’s favor.
Liebesman is shooting for Ridley Scott/Paul Greengrass realism, and to him that means using enough shaky cam to give the Cloverfield monster motion sickness. In the last few hours I’ve seen video shot at the moment of the Japanese earthquake where the camera didn’t shake as much as it does during action scenes here. This bypasses shaky cam and becomes more like jerky cam. Have I told you lately how much I’ve come to loathe shaky cam? I like my action in my action movies to be comprehensible and not just hyper-edited frenetic camera movements mixed with random explosions and actors I can barely distinguish from one another yelling at each other. It reached the point where characters I thought I watched die turned out to be alive in the next scene, leaving me to wonder who that was I just saw buy the farm – not that the script gave me any reasons to care about their well being in the first place. When I’m watching a frenetic firefight between soldiers and an extraterrestrial army on a bombed out freeway overpass and checking my watch to see how much longer the movie has, that’s not a good sign.
Skyline has gotten a lot of well deserved ragging, but I find my reaction to this film nearly identical. I just felt kind of numb to it all. I didn’t hate what I was watching; yet, I didn’t care about any of it and never felt excited or awed no matter how much the bombastic score worked overtime to manipulate my emotions for me. Battle: Los Angeles certainly has the advantage of better action sequences (or at least more of them), though to compare both films on the level of dialogue and characterizations, I’d call it a coin flip as to which was worse. Both LA-based alien invasion flicks beg, borrow, and steal so much of their components from other films the perfect meta in-joke would have been to have the civilians the Battle: Los Angeles marines were sent into rescue turn out to be the Skyline characters holed up in their apartment. That would have been too clever for writer Christopher Bertolini’s bordering on embarrassing screenplay.
One area where I do give Skyline the advantage is in the design of its aliens. The hulking monsters and brain-powered biomechanical vagina thingies the Strause Brothers came up with were far more visually interesting to me than whatever the hell these metallic beings are invading Los Angeles. One of our DC staffers once jokingly said that District 9 should have been called “The Fly Goes to Shanty Town”. The Battle: LA aliens appear to have come from a Shanty planet. To me these aliens were nothing more than a junkier-looking, more militarily competent version of the droid army from The Phantom Menace. Not that much more competent; you would think cybernetically enhanced extraterrestrials with the ability to travel across the universe to invade other worlds would have better targeting equipment.
By the last third Battle: Los Angeles all but abandons any pretenses of being a motion picture and transforms into a nakedly transparent recruitment video for the United States Marine Corps masquerading as a sci-fi movie. Remember those USMC commercials where an average looking guy fights a dragon with a sword and then turns into a Marine? This movie is that commercial come to life with aliens in place of dragons. I've got nothing but the utmost respect for our fighting men and women, but the jingoism eventually reaches a cartoonish proportion I haven’t seen since the old 80’s “G.I. Joe” cartoon. I mean some of Aaron Eckhart’s dialogue towards the end .. and God bless the guy because he’s trying so hard to sell the crap script he’s working with ... it’s almost as if his character develops Marine Tourette’s; instead of obscenities he cannot help but mutter patriotic platitudes about the duties of being a Marine every few moments. If I were Marine, I might find it a little disingenuous that a movie that’s practically a love letter to the honorable men and women in uniform builds itself around the premise of aliens invading Earth to steal our water, which they use in lieu of oil and gasoline; a not-so-subtle allegory about the perceived ulterior motives of our current military incursions into the Middle East.
2 out of 5
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