Battle: Los Angeles

Battle: Los Angeles


Reviewed by: David Graham

Another alien invasion incinerates our screens in Battle: Los Angeles - but have we seen it all before? Jonathan Liebesman opts for the same mix of gritty visuals and deadly serious tone that he employed on Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning to tell the story of a Marine platoon's journey through extraterrestrial-infested LA. The urban jungle finds itself under attack at ground-level, the enemy crash-landing in the sea and sweeping the beaches in a nice reversal of Saving Private Ryan's opening scene. As Aaron Eckhart and his platoon scope for survivors, they find themselves stranded in a war-zone with only hours until it's to be nuked, miles of demolished city and heavily-armed aliens lying between them and safety.

These flicks often stand or fall on the strength of their otherworldly enemies, but sadly the slimy menace here is a let-down. The aliens would be more interesting if their design didn't so closely resemble those of the enemies in recent sci-fi flicks Skyline and District 9. The ships in this film might as well have flown in from the former, learning how to join together like Lego doughnuts of death on the way, and the xenomorphs appear to be close cousins of the 'prawns' from the latter, but without any of their insectoid charm. It's no wonder you don't get to see much of them without their Robocop suits, but even when they're striding around in their mechanical bodies, the CGI animation is totally unconvincing. The effects work is arguably weaker than in both of those earlier films, despite the much higher budget - Liebesman obviously concentrated on scale rather than innovative design. While the rubble-strewn streets and abandoned buildings look authentic, they are also curiously lacking in atmosphere, despite a near-constant veil of smoke and ash. This fog makes ambushes inevitable, but any tension this might generate is dissipated by the soldiers' idiotic behaviour. If you were just heading into a skirmish with an unknown foe, would you really stop to coo over a wandering dog?

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The dialogue throughout is groan-inducing. When characters aren't beating their chests or trying to rally together, their inane banter will have you gnashing your teeth. The few civilians that come into the fray are played by decent actors but aren't given enough to do. The female character's revealing of her occupation is at least worth a giggle; when the soldiers are trying to figure out a captive alien's weak spot, her ridiculously convenient declaration of "I'm a veterinarian!" really beggars scriptwriting belief. On top of all the testosterone, the frequent patriotic speeches and would-be rousing music just remind you how po-faced the whole enterprise is.

It's refreshing to see the entire film take the perspective of the armed forces, usually relegated to the sidelines in these flicks as expendable cannon fodder - there are no cutaways to weeping women, no side stories of politicians cocking things up even further - but there are perhaps too many troops to keep track of. Even though there are a surprising amount of survivors at the end, you barely notice those being dispatched as it happens. The squad members aren't quite as interchangeable as they often are in these films, but the film short changes them in their demise, leaving the audience bewildered as to what's happening to whom.

Many of these flaws may be attributed to a deliberate effort to make the unit seem realistic and their experiences more visceral, but it just underlines how unbelievable most of the situations are. The shaky camerawork and barrage of noise work to the action's advantage, but the constant hail of alien fire and the obviously superior technology they employ makes the lapses in logic that bring them down hard to swallow. One nicely observed moment has the grunts wondering if the aliens share their sentiment of wanting to be anywhere but at war, but that sort of attempt at insight is rare. Sadly, this conjecture is about as far as we get to understanding their foe, apart from a reasonably acceptable motive for them choosing Earth, which ties in nicely with our global concerns. Aaron Eckhart and his squad give it their all, but their occasional attempts at dramatic grandstanding stand out like a sore thumb. The carnage is fairly satisfying but it's not especially fresh or exciting: there's absolutely nothing here that hasn't been done before and better. In the end Liebesman makes you feel nostalgic for the good-natured gung-ho tosh that Independence Day was and knew it. I guess that in itself is some sort of achievement.

Reviewed on: 12 Mar 2011
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Battle: Los Angeles packshot
Aliens attack Los Angeles and a marine platoon is called upon to stop them.
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Director: Jonathan Liebesman

Writer: Christopher Bertolini

Starring: Aaron Eckhart, Michelle Rodriguez, Bridget Moynahan, Ramon Rodriguez, Ne-Yo

Year: 2011

Runtime: 116 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US


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