Battle Los Angeles
Rather than actively fighting the clichés inherent in this genre, they have consciously, even joyously, embraced them. By doing so, they have made a popcorn flick that is fun, fast-paced, and at times, even moving.
Battle Los Angeles is a rousing and rip-roaring action flick expertly crafted by people who know what they are doing. Rather than actively fighting the clichés inherent in this genre, they have consciously, even joyously, embraced them. By doing so, they revisit why the clichés have persisted, and by mining them for what made them so, they have made a popcorn flick that is fun, fast-paced, and at times, even moving. That last is strictly due to lead man Aaron Eckhart, an actor who can carry a character’s emotional baggage with respect and clarity, while not letting it bog him down in melodrama. In this tale, the melodrama can take care of itself.
The titular battle is against aliens, whose planet-wide invasion is precise and ruthless. Within hours, coastal cities and world capitals are in ruins, and humankind is fighting for its existence against an enemy for whom first contact equals extermination. The initial approach is misidentified as a series of meteor showers, and that won’t be the first miscalculation made. Los Angeles quickly becomes the last line of defense, and the last line of the defense force is Staff Sergeant Nantz (Eckhart), a 20-year veteran on the cusp of retirement after a disastrous mission in Iraq. Following the laws of the genre, he is paired up with a lieutenant just out of officer candidate school, and a company of men who run the gamut of stock characters, from the 17-year-old virgin, to the guy just about to get married, the guy with PTSD, and, of course, the guy with the dead brother killed in the line of duty on Nantz’s fateful Iraq mission. In keeping with the general spirit, Michelle Rodriguez is cast as the de rigeur female solder, in this case the tough-as-nails tech sergeant on the trail of what makes the alien technology tick.
Nantz must lead his platoon through the rescue of civilians stuck in Santa Monica, before the military bombs the area out of existence in a desperate attempt to hold the aliens back. During the mission, Nantz demonstrates a way of inspiring his men despite their lack of faith in him to get them back in one piece. Nantz is also good with civilians (including children caught in the battle), and dealing with an unknown enemy.
The fantasy of the alien invasion is balanced nicely with the gritty realism of hand-held camera work and the constant barrage of firepower lobbed back and forth. The special effects also stay within a realistic frame of reference, with aliens that are more mechanical than living creatures, but whose weapons are bound by recognizable physical limits. On the other hand, by having aliens as the enemy, it obviates any necessity on the part of the soldiers or the audience to have any empathy for them as fellow beings; this is strictly a battle of good versus evil. There is however a moment where a grunt muses to his fellow grunt that the odd things they are shooting at might be grunts, too, just doing what they’re told. The moment passes doing little to taint the way Nantz vivisects a captured alien in order to learn how to kill it most effectively. The alien makes odd noises, a combination of chirps and whirs as the viscous guts are probed and the unsettling discovery is made that its weapon is surgically fused to its body.
Events move swiftly and as logically as a premise like this allows, and the story allows itself just enough time for each of the characters to become integral to the sweep of the story. As the aliens surprise at every turn, the human survivors cleverly cobble together ingenious plans on the fly to keep themselves alive and the aliens at bay.
Things bog down a bit when the script turns syrupy, as perhaps is inevitable when cute kids are involved, but it is remarkable that for all the cutesy-ness, it doesn’t happen more than it does.
The film is sincere in its presentation of courage under fire. While it will never be mistaken for a profound film, Battle Los Angeles becomes a true tale of redemption, one that never lets up the tension of facing down a seemingly unbeatable enemy.