Friday, April 15, 2011

Review: Battle: Los Angeles

Non Spoiler Review:
If you're looking for a cross between Cloverfield and Blackhawk Down, well, Battle: LA delivers. Aaron Eckhart and Bridget Moynahan star in this latest alien invasion flick that cranks out a gritty battlefield style loaded with alien tech. Also involved is the ever enjoyable Michelle Rodriguez (Lost, Avatar), and a host of secondary players to provide conflict and cannon fodder.

Battle: LA is not immune to the cliches of this type of war film—beginning with the standard introductions of the myriad characters and a little backstory of each to set up camaraderie and grudges between them. There's an assortment of the usual types—the shell-shocked soldier, the wet-behind-the-ears rookie, etc. Staff Sergeant Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) is the centerpiece of this group. He was involved in a no win scenario in Iraq that resulted in his men getting killed (one of whom is the brother of an officer in his current platoon). He is just ready to retire from the marines when chaos breaks loose. 

Once we get through those somewhat tedious scenes, the more compelling story emerges—arriving in snippets from news reports in the background, we're informed swarms of meteors are expected to enter the atmosphere. As this crisis gets more ominous, the marines are called in to provide evacuation support along the coast, until it becomes evident that the meteors are, in fact, slowing, and the first footage of impact off the beaches of LA reveals a terrifying intelligence marching out of the water and beginning to lay waste to the city.

After that, it's shaky cam all the way. Lots of shaky cam. The tension is high throughout, as Nantz's marines must try to rescue some civilians behind enemy lines before the bombs drop. Meanwhile, we get further news coverage of similar events around the globe, and mass confusion of what is really happening. 

The major star is the CGI, of course, and the creators succeed in delivering an alien force that is both overwhelming, but (and always a challenge) beatable. Otherwise the film offers no hope. There is suitable mystery about the creatures, as well as their motivations (which is slowly revealed over the course of the film). Whether the ultimate purpose of the invasion is satisfying to everyone, remains to be seen.

As I mentioned, the battlefield cliche's are nothing new here, but the problem with this type of setting is that one quickly loses track of who is getting killed in a firefight, until the cast is whittled down to a manageable number. So a lot of impact of those deaths are lost. The cast is quite capable with the script. There's the usual Go Go Marines! stuff, but I didn't find that off putting at all, and they succeeded in delivering a sense of camaraderie for the troops. 

I did find the reactions of the marines a bit too calm in the face of such an insane threat. While they may have seen battle before, the idea of an extra-terrestrial invasion just didn't seem to phase them as much as I imagine it would the general population and the mayhem that is inflicted on Los Angeles in so short a time.

But...It does work better than Independence Day, which shows things have come a long way to capture a true sense of the situation. There is no joking around or Will Smith one-liners to be had here, thankfully.

Battle: LA isn't a great or groundbreaking movie by any means, but I believe it accomplished what it set out to do—delivering an entertaining alien invasion war movie with a battlefield flavor. While the occasional character may elicit a groan, the plot itself likely won't. Whether in theatres or on DVD, it's worth checking out. 

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