It must be said that Battle: Los Angeles is a film with one special distinction going for it: never before has watching aliens blow up been so soul crushingly dull. You wouldn’t think it would be possible, but despite the fact that the movie dedicates at least 90% of it’s running time to marines kicking the shit out of aliens, you’ll find yourself shifting in your seats within seconds.
The pitch meetings in Hollywood must have sounded fantastic. Between snorting up dildo-sized lines of coke some twitchy producer blurted out, “Man, what if Black Hawk Down and District 9 had a baby and that baby bought you a yacht?” Unfortunately while $100 million cheques were being cut, no one bothered to worry about pesky little elements like story, context, and characterization. Simple things that might not look sexy on paper or cause studio execs’ eyes to turn into dollar signs like in a Warner Brothers cartoon, but still have an intangible quality that audiences need whether they know it or not.
The plot, such as it is, involves Aaron Eckhart as a long time marine two weeks away from retirement (you might even say, “he’s too old for this shit”). Eckhart has some sort of tragic past that led to men under his command being killed in the Middle East, but the screenwriter never bothers to explain exactly what happened. There’s also a group of army grunts who have no real personalities beyond their ethnicities or gender. Suddenly Los Angels is attacked by aliens. It’s never explained why, though news reports hint that it has something to do with water. The soldiers then go into battle, save some kids, and blow up some sort of command ship. That’s it. They don’t even overcome the alien threat. That’s left open for a sequel that hopefully will never happen. Yep, that was a spoiler, but if it keeps you from seeing the movie I consider it a public service.
It’s pretty easy to see what the filmmakers were going for. The idea was do a grunts-eye-view alien invasion movie. No presidential addresses, no unlikely heroes, no Will Smith. Just good ol’ army folk doin’ their jobs against aliens. That’s not a terrible idea, but some sort of expansion on that concept would have been nice. Aside from Aaron Eckhart delivering a few inspirational speeches, no one spits out more than a few words of dialogue at a time. The film is just one big loud obnoxious mess with people shouting “move in” or “shoot them” at the top of their lungs followed by endless gunfire.
Now there’s nothing wrong with wall-to-wall action in a movie. In fact, that’s awesome. But in an attempt to lend the film documentary verisimilitude like the last two Bourne movies, director Jonathan Liebesman shoots everything with disorienting handheld cameras to the point of distraction. There’s no established sense of space or physical relationship between the characters. The whole movie is just a collection of shaky close ups of faces, guns, and explosions. Anyone could be responsible for the action at any time. For long passages it’s impossible to even tell who is alive and who is dead. Action filmmakers used to take pride in carefully constructing scenes visually so that what was happening in the big set pieces would be perfectly clear. There was a beauty to that kind of work that has long been lost. Now what passes for action directing is a series of disconnected shaky images pawned off as stylized realism. It’s lazy, incomprehensible filmmaking and hopefully this trend will die out soon.
Aside from Aaron Eckhart—who is good in almost everything and proves to be a decent action hero—there’s really nothing to like about Battle: Los Angeles. It’s all painfully derivative of movies like Independence Day and especially Aliens. The aliens aren’t even technically impressive or threatening. They look like poorly animated slime-covered mannequins with machine gun arms and fly spaceships that were presumably designed by grabbing and handful of scrap metal from a trash-heap and duct-taping on some rocket launchers. It might sound like I’m being unnecessarily harsh, but I’m probably not being hard enough on this cinematic stink nugget. This is the type of movie where a random beautiful woman shouts out “I’m a veterinarian” and is instantly put in charge of dissecting an alien to determine it’s weaknesses. You’ll have a similar experience.