Review – Battle: Los Angeles

Posted March 11th, 2011 at 3:15 am

‘Event’ films typically appeal to large audiences with their high-level concepts. Many eventually disappoint because those concepts work better in short spurts or the dialogue and stories take a back seat to the special effects. Battle: Los Angeles takes on the always popular alien invasion storyline, and though flawed in ways it delivers exactly what it advertises all the while remaining just grounded enough to avoid the usual pitfalls. 

A marine unit is tracked as it goes beyond enemy lines in an effort to retrieve civilians, all the while working against the clock to get out of the area before an offensive attack wipes out the area. Aaron Eckhart stars with a strong supporting but ultimately disposable cast.

Early on the film attempts to establish the characters with some backstory but utterly fails in that regard. With the guy on his way out of the military, the one with a pregnant wife, the one getting married, the leader with shaky confidence…all the cliches are hit on.

Ironically the majority of the backstories turn out to be pointless as very little of it ever relates to the events that take place later on and it achieved nothing in the effort to build a relationship between the audience and the characters. It would have been better off just to drop in on the characters and build them through their actions within such an overwhelming situation. The first 15 minutes could have been completely cut out with little damage being done.

Quickly though the action picks up as the invasion begins and the unit is sent on its mission. What Battle: Los Angeles does especially well is in how it presents a wide-scoping situation but primarily stays with the single unit on the ground. They are largely isolated and in the dark as to what is going on and the audience is right with them. Once scene in particular really played on this, as fighting an unknown force led to them taking an opportunity to try and examine a downed alien in order to figure out how best to kill them. The shaky-cam and gritty nature of the cinematography adds to that feeling and suspense.

The action is well choreographed and the special effects are well done, displaying both wide-ranging destruction and more localized explosions and combat. The actual aliens appear to be mechanical in nature and they tend only to be seen in quick cuts. Though they looked good based on their designs and how they had their own leadership structure and invasion strategy, I liked that they weren’t the focus of what was on screen as that made them more ominous.

There sure felt as though there was a video game influence in the way the action was presented and how the story concentrated on the single unit. That is really what separates this film from others in the genre in recent years. It knew exactly how it wanted to present the invasion and the plight of those caught up in the middle of it.

Even more surprisingly the movie largely avoided cringe-inducing moments or dialogue. It did come close to doing so twice, once with a speech regarding a previous mission where soldiers had gotten killed that was prompting some distrust. The other had to do with a dad and his son and the reactions to what happened with them. Both seemed out of place considering everything going on around them.

While the desire to build up backstories for the soldiers was misplaced and the score was a little heavy-handed, Battle: Los Angeles handled its premise with more tact than expected. It was an entertaining ride with such intensity that it could be described as exhausting.

Rating: ★★★½☆