Battle Los Angeles (2011)

Battle Los Angeles (2011) — This article was originally published on on 11 March 2011.

If you are a massive geek like me, there is a great website you can waste several unproductive hours on. endlessly deconstructs ever minute detail of movies, television, and literature (and I think music too, though I’ve never really checked it out). Every narrative device you’ve seen before has its own name and page with many examples listed. No cliché is left undocumented. It really is a magnificent time-waster for those who consume and deconstruct popular culture in unhealthily massive doses as I do. I bring this website up because it was constantly on my mind as I watched the new action film Battle Los Angeles.

Battle Los Angeles stars Aaron Eckhart as Marine Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz who is getting too old for this shit. He is just a few days shy of retirement when mysterious and previously undetected meteors start crashing all around the globe. However NASA figures out that there’s something funny about these meteors as a) they haven’t shown up until the day they’re supposed to hit, b) they all have fallen in the water near major cities, c) they slow before impact, d) most of them are identically shaped and mechanical in nature, and e) HOLY SHIT THEY’RE FUCKING ALIENS! Naturally they decide to mobilize the Marines. Staff Sgt. Nantz serves as a last minute replacement for a unit’s usual Staff Sergeant, who is on leave. Nantz has a dark past involving a mission gone wrong that is frequently alluded to. Consequently he has something of an unpleasant reputation. In the role Eckhart plays… well pretty much the movie stereotype of what a Marine is. He’s tough and dutiful and… well he’s tough and dutiful anyway.

The beginning of the movie is mostly set up to introduce you to the characters so you can get a sense of who they are. This is done so that later when their lives are in mortal danger (and some of them are killed) you actually care. It is in this respect that the movie fails spectacularly. There’s the rookie who is still a virgin. There’s the guy who’s getting married. There’s the immigrant earning his citizenship. There’s the guy with Post traumatic Stress Disorder waiting to get cleared for combat again. There’s the random Air Force chick they pick up while making their way through the ruins of Santa Monica. Played by Michelle Rodriguez (who [spoiler alert I guess] fares somewhat better here that she has in many other movies) she exists mostly to fill the Marines in on information they wouldn’t be able to find out from the ground. Then there are the civilians, played by Michael Peña, Bridgett Moynihan and also three kids who never receive any more character definition than “kids.” In fact I almost forgot there were three since one of them has virtually no screentime.

In case all the links didn’t clue you in this movie is absolutely riddled with plot points and tropes that have been done to death again and again countless times before. So no points for originality. The plot goes pretty much as you would expect. The Marines go out on a mission to rescue people but shit goes horribly awry and now they’re just trying to get back safe with the few civilians they do find. Not everyone makes it, but once they get the civilians to safety they realize there’s one more thing that can do to serve the greater good so they go back and do that. As a kid you ever try to come up with your own alien invasion story after seeing Independence Day? It was probably better than this.

So if originality is out of the picture all that’s left to evaluate about this movie is the execution. That’s actually where the movie does okay. Not great but okay. The battle scenes are engaging and you really do want to see how the Marines are going to get out of it okay, even if the characters are interchangeable. The movie scores points for not going with the standard anti-monument lasers (although there is one shot of the Santa Monica Pier on fire) used in movies like Independence Day or pretty much anything else directed by Roland Emmerich. Director Jonathan Leibesman (Darkness Falls, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: the Beginning) seemed to start out with an interesting enough idea. Modern warfare consists largely of urban combat but in America we have no real conception of what that entails (unless you have actually served in the military, most of us don’t). The fact that the aliens are theorized (though never explicitly stated) to be here to take our natural resources almost suggest that the aliens represent the U.S.A. and we represent the nations typically invaded over resources like oil. That’s an interesting idea to play with. It could evolve into a Paul Verhoevan or Neil Blomkamp-style commentary on the real world using science fiction like District 9. The movie does not explore any of that theme beyond casual mentions of it. It’s just a standard “they shoot at us, we shoot back” action movie. It’s not really horrible but it’s not worth paying full price for either. Actually maybe you should sneak into this movie after seeing a better movie like Rango.

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