MOVIE REVIEW | Battle: Los Angeles Image

Battle: Los Angeles

One way to determine just how predisposed one is to sci-fi is by comparing one’s opinion of Battle: Los Angeles with one’s opinion of Black Hawk Down. This opportunity is now available to theater-goers because the former movie was made by taking the old reels of the latter movie and digitally inserting aliens. This of course is not literally true (though it gives the good reader a very good idea of what to expect should he purchase tickets) so it’s not a perfect test. Black Hawk Down, as I recall, had some directorial flourishes and humorous moments that were absent from its sci-fi version, while the sci-fi version manages to pull more of a plot together amid all those bullets and explosions (indeed, I remember thinking, after Black Hawk Down, that the moviemakers had saved some money on production by bypassing the screenwriter at the cost of a missed opportunity to make a good movie). These variables aside, the two flicks are remarkably similar and one may take the test at theaters over the next handful of weeks.

For me, adding aliens to the plot, such as it is, went some way towards making the movie a more enjoyable experience. This should not be misconstrued as an endorsement for the movie with no reservations, merely a preference for one military action demo reel over another. As Shakespeare wrote, “If two men ride of a horse, one must ride behind.” If I am going to sit through about 100 minutes of violence and destruction by way of an armed forces recruitment video, there at least ought to be an alien invasion.

The offensive begins very quickly. Interspersed with short scenes having nothing to do with the plot and meant only to give us one clear trait by which to distinguish characters from each other are clips of news casts about a mysterious meteor bombardment approaching the Earth. Each successive piece of information makes it seem less like a bombardment and more like an invasion, until ugly tentacled creatures start firing weapons and remove any vestige of doubt. The invasion occurs worldwide; the present film focuses on the action in Los Angeles.

A shaky, hand-held look is used for the filming, a look which Steven Spielberg made work for Saving Private Ryan and which practically no one has since. The director, riding the wave of the present trend, uses this look for everything, a calm discussion in an office as much as a firefight in the streets. The movie has the dubious distinction of having battle scenes that, visually, are easier to follow than some of the early establishing scenes. The reason for this is that the battle scenes are filmed with wide and medium shots while, inexplicably, in some of the early scenes the director decided to mix jerky camera work with close ups. I don’t pretend to understand it; I’m just reporting the facts.

When the invasion starts, Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) is yanked out of retirement before the ink on his official papers is dry and put in with a squad of marines tasked with making a short sweep ending at a police station where it is believed some civilians may be dug in. They are given a deadline after which the area will be carpet bombed. SSgt. Nantz sets out with his team of hastily sketched, one-dimensional characters and warfare ensues.

Aaron Eckhart plays SSgt. Michael Nantz

It must be said that Battle: Los Angeles has few pretensions. The director knew what kind of movie it was and wasted little time getting to the heart of it. Though it’s a bit of a one trick pony, its only trick isn’t a bad one. The action seems realistic and is well done; the military mechanics seem accurately portrayed, enough at least to make a civilian like me fall for it. There are very few dramatic arcs and compelling interactions between characters, but there is a desperate fight in the streets, with a clock ticking down to a mini Armageddon. The storytellers throw some obstacles at the protagonists, and there is even a surprise discovery near the end that brings on the final act. The story structure shows competence, though it is unexceptional.

It’s not a movie I will need to see again before I die or risk an unfulfilled life, but it’s not the kind of unsalvageably bad that low expectations cannot mitigate. There are many, many better movies than Battle: Los Angeles. Even a weak period for movies, such as we are currently in, sees multiple movies each year that surpass it. Still, sometimes it’s nice to go to a theater to watch a film rather than see it on your television and, well, Battle: Los Angeles is in theaters right now.

2.5 / 5 stars     

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About the Author

Matthew Bruce Alexander Staff Writer

Matthew is a libertarian living in central Ohio. A graduate of Ohio State University, he majored in Spanish and has published a work of libertarian science-fiction called Wĭthûr Wē.

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