Like the thrilling Black Hawk Down, the battle is ON almost out of the gate.
I took in Battle: Los Angeles over the weekend trading my heavy heart over the human wreckage and sadness permeating the Japanese landscape for something completely escapist and fantastical. Events in the world have been so truly horrible of late, I'm not sure seeing Battle: Los Angeles was that much of a stetch. Aliens attacking Earth is about the only thing that hasn't happened on a global scale to date. I suppose for that we should be thankful.
The film is good. It's a solid genre film, but certainly imperfect. It's a mostly well-executed fusion of the war and science fiction genres. It's a little messy, sometimes poorly filmed or poorly lit, but only in spots. Director Jonathan Liebesman lacks the auteur touch of a filmmaker like Director Ridley Scott who brought the visceral realities of war to life in Black Hawk Down, but by and large he gets the job done and done well. The external, urban sequences are generally the best. In fact, I often wavered between exhilaration and unimpressed throughout the film, but fell mostly within the former camp.
For it's rating, PG-13, the film was surprisingly electrifying. These watered down ratings often aren't up to the task. Sequences were not bloody or graphic, but still crackling with energy in spots. It's the perfect twelve to fourteen year old picture. It's like Call Of Duty with aliens for the big screen and kids relate. There's no shortage of action and excitement and the special effects are outstanding. It reminisces of the quality effects established in Transformers, but this was a much more enjoyable, far less goofy and knuckle-headed film for adults despite being sometimes as loud and bombastic.
It's an uneven film as some of the camera work is not of the quality established in war pictures like Black Hawk Down, Saving Private Ryan or We Were Soldiers, but it's close. Interestingly, those war pictures mentioned were all rated R and took the intensity of war to the next level. This is certainly a necessary component of any war picture, but as it stands it remains more closely connected to a comic book-styled graphic novel. That's fine too, but it never quite achieves those moments of authenticity, that full impact, as a result of its limited rating. That Director's Cut for Blu-Ray may be the remedy. Perhaps it was the lack of character growth that left all of the action feeling a little hollow. Even in those aforementioned war pictures you got a better taste for character, than you do here. Aaron Eckhart is a good commanding lead and a nice choice for the film, but the story is hackneyed and thin. There's not a whole lot of new here. If you enjoy two hours of first person shooter, video game-styled action than the documentary-like, shaky camera, visual style actioner should serve as a pleasant diversion. For every poorly executed sequence, there is certainly an equally thrilling one to follow and there are more of the latter. Even the conclusion was more rousing than I had anticipated.
Ultimately, it's a decent film, but it never lives up to the promise of those trailers that had been teased to us for over a year. It wasn't the substantive science fiction of District 9, but it wasn't the childish, mind-numbing morass of Transformers either. This is a picture with marines fighting aliens. Comraderie against all odds. It's Aliens played out on a grand stage without quite the same delicious suspense and dread of that film. My friend Fritz "Doc" Freakenstein makes a great point about the alien designs found in Battle: Los Angeles over at Guardians Of The Genre. I prefer more imaginative creature designs myself like those detailed in District 9. Like that aforementioned film, Battle: Los Angeles does explore some fine sci-fi tech, which is always a pleasure for genre fans like myself.
The script delivers a strong linear tale of action, but the scriptwriting is uninspired. To give you an idea of just how weak the dialogue is in parts I give you my favorite cliched moment of the film. The platoon of soldiers attempts to determine how to kill these bio-mechanical invaders of purposefully ambiguous design. Frustrated, actress Bridget Moynahan enters the room, a rescued civilian, and straight-faced delivers this line: "Maybe I can help. I'm a veterinarian." Seriously!? Good grief. I rolled my eyes at that most cringe-worthy moment. Apparently, her work on dogs and cats should do the trick on this fully weaponized, organic beast, humanoid in build of course. Again, perfectly fine if your young and living in the moment or quickly drawn to the next, shiny new gun like your dog Spot. I was pleased the profanity was kept to a minimum. Maybe if there had been more exposition I might have liked it less.
That's right folks, just roll with it. This is not intended for enlightenment of the human mind.
Although, did you know the film was loosely based on events that transpired in 1942? Three months after the United States entered World War II a mysterious event occurred referred to as The Battle Of Los Angeles or The Great Los Angeles Air Raid. There's nothing like a strange, little minor event over a potential extra-terrestrial contact to ignite a fantastic action picture of this scale and magnitude minus any real military intelligence or any intelligence for that matter. Those damn government weather balloons wreak all kinds of havoc. But apart from the film's relationship to this article, the fact that this film is set in Los Angeles is hardly an important factor. It really doesn't matter.
Alien invasion films are as old as the day is long, but an effective alien thriller can be delivered with the right director and writers on board. Just look at Steven Spielberg's PG-13-rated War Of The Worlds for a strong case in point. This may not be that good, but it comes close. The film, put simply, is a great, self-contained bit of science fiction/ war entertainment especially for those with the attention span of a flea. The One To Be Pitied insists it's the perfect film for me. Nice, thanks. Hey, what was that?
Battle: Los Angeles: B [for Battle]