Contrary to what Americans like to believe, the United States wasn’t built on peace and love — the fountain on which it stands will always be violence. As colonists, we deceived and slaughtered the Native people. Later, we held slaves for profit. Now, once again, we’re fighting a war based on greed. Looking back, it seems like we’re long overdue with karma.
And in Jonathan Liebesman’s (The Killing Room, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning) Battle: Los Angeles, that is exactly what we get. Starring the stern faced Aaron Eckhart as SSgt. Michael Nantz, a hardened warrior en route to retirement who decides to stick it out until his company is ready to be deployed. However, the man isn’t quite popular with the greenhorns, which have heard stories of both his reckless acts of heroism and of the mistakes that his impulsive nature has brought on — namely, a botched operation that cost the lives of several Marines. But their training is quickly put to the test when alien carriers disguised as meteors (perplexing meteorologists who notice that these space-rocks actually slow down before impact) hit the coasts of Earth’s major cities. In response, the platoon is helicoptered into combat, where they are tasked with rescuing civvies and reaching the nearest “f.o.b. (forwarding operating base).” Did I mention that the government has already scheduled to bomb the area in three hours?
But the question remains: Why are these aliens, who resemble R2D2 from the neck-up and have the frame of Mary-Kate Olson, invading our planet? We aren’t sure, but the main theory is that they’re colonizing, planning to extort the human-people (sound familiar?) for their water supply, which they use as fuel. Fortunately, these guys, with their dedication exemplified by the weaponry surgically-attached to their limbs, choose to do their life’s work from a distance, oftentimes being obstructed by either the fog of war or just poor camerawork. That is to say, fortunate for audience members who barely look face-to-face with these design failures. As for the Marines? Not so much.
Christopher Bertolini’s script consists mostly of the outnumbered and overpowered team being ambushed, screaming indecipherable military logo, and having personal epiphanies, none of which is rather entertaining. Eventually they do run into TSgt. Elena Santos (Michelle Rodriguez), a surviving militant who has stowed away with 40th Union, another outfit of injured soldiers. Together, and with a finite amount of ammo, they decide to attack the heart of the alien command. Even this is unsatisfying, due to the writer’s indistinctive and overly-simplistic direction.
Opening in a Hurt Locker-esque fashion, Battle: Los Angeles starts by introducing the ethnic smorgasbord of a platoon (featuring Latinos, Asians, and even a Nigerian), in some pathetic attempt to make these cardboard cutouts feel human. Is it safe to say that this entire sequence is ineffective if I couldn’t remember any of the characters’ names by the end of the film? (Besides Nantz that is, probably because Eckhart actually looked the role, unlike most of his cast-mates). Speaking of which, who the hell had the audacity to hire pop-singer Ne-Yo to play a serious soldier?
I eventually did grow to like these characters (even though I don’t recall their names). The driving force not being the characters per-se, but instead the team’s progression from a mismatched group of strangers to a brotherhood, however by the third act, it was already too late.
Set-design is the other noteworthy plus in the film. Los Angeles looks suitably damaged — constantly being examined with zoom-out shots that insinuate the city’s burning buildings.
Could Battle: Los Angeles been a success? Certainly, if Liebesman and Bertolini focused less on messy action scenes and more on the same tension that was created in the film’s trailers by Johann Johannson’s incredibly eerie composition “Sun’s Gone Dim.” Luckily, the film is left open-ended, leaving room for a much-improved sequel, but for now, this battle remains best unsought.