Alien invasion movie have been around for a long time, so finding one that is completely original and satisfying on all levels is rare. With “Battle: Los Angeles,” Relativity Media and Columbia Pictures have given director Jonathan Liebesman — who is virtually brand new to blockbuster film-making — the task of trying to do just that.
The film starts off in a heat-of-the-night battle. Viewing it from a night-vision camera, all you see are lights and explosions. We then cut to 24 hours earlier and we are on a military base, where we start getting to know some marines in a quick montage. As reports start coming in that unknown and previously unchartered meteors arrive in our atmosphere, the government begins to deploy units to coastal cities to help with evacuations.
We meet Staff Sgt. Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart), a 20-year veteran who has finally decides to retire. As he is getting his release papers in order, he is told he will be deployed to Santa Monica with a small team to help with the emergency. He is put under the orders of newly-appointed 2nd Lt. William Martinez (Ramon Rodriguez) and his team is off to Santa Monica to help with the relief. As these “meteors” begin to impact coastal cities the world over, we soon learn that all is not as it seems. Creatures and machines begin to emerge from the water and we instantly know we are in trouble.
With such a massive and devastating attack on the world, things quickly go from a rescue mission to a full-blown battle. The squad’s mission is to rescue some civilians (Bridget Moynahan, Michael Pena) from a local police station before the entire city of Santa Monica is bombed by the army. With the clock ticking, they have to weave their way through many battles and a treacherous landscape to get to those in need of a rescue and get out before the air strike. On the way, they run into what’s left of another battalion (including Michelle Rodriguez) and learn that they were on a mission to locate the central control ship and take it out. Against advanced weaponry, seemingly indestructible alien soldiers and spacecraft light years beyond anything we could comprehend, can humans win the fight?
I have been anticipating this movie for quite some time and after the disappointing and immensely boring “Skyline” last year, I was really hoping for something truly great. Although this movie succeeds on many counts, it fails just as often. The biggest downfall is that it gives you no time to get to know these characters and with so many men in army fatigues, they all seem to blend together. In fact, outside of a few characters, it’s difficult to care too much when they start to get killed off one by one. That is my biggest complaint — the lack of character development leads to no emotional connection with them for us. The other major fault with this film is that it creates side plots and gives us secondary characters stories that remain unaccounted for by the film’s end.
Now onto the good. “Battle: Los Angeles” is mostly non-stop action. Fans of the genre will be titillated by the massive amount of shooting and explosions. All hell breaks loose in “Battle: Los Angeles.” The movie is shot using a hand-held camera to make the audience feel like one of the marines on the ground. I personally love this style — used in major films such as “Cloverfield” — it really makes the movie more believable. But if you are not a fan of the shaky camera or quick panning, this is not a film for you (or you may want to wait to watch it on TV, where these things tend to be less jarring).
The design of the aliens and their spacecraft were truly original. They took the idea that everyone has about alien vessels and turned it upside down by altering and changing what we thought we were seeing. One of my favorite designs of the movie was for the aircraft that seemed as though it was in a flying-saucer shape, but then it broke apart to reveal its many tiny drone ships that connected together. This was amazing to see for the first time. In addition, the overall look and feel of the extraterrestrials was unique. I also liked the weapons they used, it wasn’t the laser or plasma gun normally shown as the advanced weapon of choice in alien invasion flicks.
There is a huge ensemble cast that composes the majority of our heroic men and women fighting this terrorizing force, but many of them don’t get enough screen time or any sort of back story for us to truly care about. There were a few exceptions, including top-notch performances by Aaron Eckhart, Michelle Rodriguez and Ramon Rodriguez. These three, along with just a few more, were the main characters and among the very few to get a unique personality. Eckhart is stellar as the leading man and both Michelle and Ramon Rodriguez really did stand out in their respective roles. I wish Michelle had a little more screen time, but she stood out in the time we did see her and, as always, she was a wonderful addition. The film had a positive view of our armed forces and they are all seen as true heroes. I think this will really resonate with audiences in this current time.
Yes, there are many similarities to popular films like “District 9” and “Black Hawk Down” — and it doesn’t outshine them by any means — but for fans of alien and war movies, I will venture to guess that they will mostly enjoy it. As for film lovers and movie-buffs who require a decent script to go along with their action … well, not so much. Overall, I will say this film headed in the right direction, it just got lost in the panic and never really found its way back.
“Battle: Los Angeles” opens in theaters today and is rated PG-13 for sustained sequences of war violence and destruction and for language. The film also stars Cory Hardrict, Gino Anthony Pesi, Ne-Yo, Noel Fischer, Bryce Cass, Neil Brown Jr. and Taylor Handley.
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