Yet again, America’s been invaded by aliens, who rain from the sky like meteors to terrify an unsuspecting populace. This time, the aggressors dominate not because of their superior intelligence, but because their guns are cooler than ours.
Battle: Los Angeles is an invasion movie for the Call Of Duty generation, a cinematic version of a console shooter with wok-headed invaders who bleed cola and fire pew-pew laser guns from rooftops.
Aaron Eckhart and Michelle Rodriguez are the two recognisable faces among a group of otherwise anonymous soldiers dropped behind enemy lines as the occupation begins. Within seconds of their arrival, much of Los Angeles has been reduced to a smoking pile of concrete and knackered tanks, and invaders prowl the ruined streets of Santa Monica.
Their ranks decimated, Staff Sergeant Nantz (Eckhart), Technical Sergeant Santos (Rodriguez) and their compatriots fight a street-level war with heavily armed aliens. Not that names particularly matter, since writer Christopher Bertolini wastes little time with introductions on either side of the fence. Director Jonathan Liebesman, meanwhile, provides even less room for pause, ensuring Battle: LA‘s lengthy runtime is essentially an unceasing string of action set pieces.
This is just as well, since the rare moments of reflection raised audible titters among my fellow viewers. Aaron Eckhart turns in an admirably stoic, stony-faced performance, but is saddled with some desperately inane, clichéd dialogue. At one point, he delivers a monologue about the tragedy of war and the horrors he’s witnessed, only to sum up everything he’s just said with a dismissive, “But that’s not important right now.”
You also have to admire a film has Eckhart say to a small boy, “Hector, you’re the bravest damn Marine I ever met” before launching himself into battle with a macho roar. In this respect, Battle: LA is a B-picture movie with A-picture cinematography and special effects.
Battle: LA‘s biggest problem, in fact, is its decision to take itself so seriously. Despite the inherent daftness of its premise (why would aliens with such advanced technology even bother to engage in street-level combat?) and the half-arsedness of its script, the film insists on ramming home the tragedy of every human loss, with lingering shots of fallen heroes, slow motion montages of weeping children, and a mournful orchestral score that murmurs constantly in the background.
It’s a film infinitely better made and more exciting than last year’s suspiciously similar Skyline. But it’s less goofily fun than the glossy spectacle of Independence Day, or the quaint brilliance of Earth Versus The Flying Saucers, or any of that first wave of invasion movies from the 50s.
Battle: LA instead presents a tidal wave of shrieking action, and in the place of a three-act story, the movie is split up into videogame-like levels. There’s a tower defence section, a bit that involves both driving and shooting, and even a sequence that cheekily recalls the Hammer of Dawn weapon from Gears Of War. The videogame connection is further compounded by the sneaky inclusion of a billboard poster for Resistance 3, which makes a prominent appearance during a pivotal firefight.
The result, then, is a film that’s heavy on theatre-rumbling big bangs, but low on emotional impact. Its human protagonists are entirely two-dimensional, while its invaders are little more than tin ducks at a funfair, moving targets for the heroes to take panic-stricken pot-shots at.
Battle: LA rallies for a final, epic boss battle, but the film’s over reliance on computer-generated set pieces and soulless heroics means it seldom feels like anything more than an extended version of its own trailer, a feature-length advert for a series of tie-in games and action figures, with the jingoistic atmosphere of a US Marine Corps recruitment video thrown in for good measure.
Having said all this, you might think I didn’t like Battle: Los Angeles at all, which is by no means the case. There were moments where the film had me truly gripped, particularly early on. Eckhart convinces, too, in his numerous action scenes. He may have been saddled with some cheesy lines, but he looks good in combat fatigues and has a world-class grenade-throwing arm.
Had the film channelled some of District 9‘s writing as well as its gritty visual style. Battle: LA could have been a properly memorable popcorn epic. Instead, it’s an entertaining but ultimately vacuous assault of explosions and special effects.
Battle: Los Angeles is in UK cinemas from March 11th.
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