Defeat at “Battle: Los Angeles”

Photo Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

“‘Independence Day’ meets ‘Black Hawk Down.’” Those were the very words used to describe “Battle: Los Angeles” in the weeks leading up its release. “Awesome!” was the typical response by anticipating moviegoers.

Who could blame them? At the very least, the film looked like the ideal popcorn flick to watch right before the major potential blockbusters opened during the summer. As it turns out, “Battle: Los Angeles” is a popcorn movie — a bad and underwhelming one, that is.

Staff Sergeant Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) is a Marine who is past his prime and has his own share of regrets. He plans to retire, but a situation regarding supposed meteorites crashing into oceans near major cities (in this case, Los Angeles) requires him to temporarily replace a platoon sergeant on leave.

It isn’t long before the meteorites are revealed to be aliens launching a global invasion. Led by Lieutenant Martinez (Ramón Rodríguez), the platoon is ordered behind enemy lines to find and extract civilians before the Air Force bombs the area. Soon, they find themselves fighting for their lives as they try to prevent the aliens from claiming Los Angeles as their own.

The story isn’t original, but it is simple and straightforward. The plot of a group of soldiers sent to carry out a standard mission only to realize and face the full scale of a conflict has been told many times before. As predictable as it is, the film’s story moves along at an energetic pace, and it never really bogs down.

One of the cardinal sins that “Battle: Los Angeles” commits is the blatant disregard toward almost all of the characters. Nantz and Martinez are the only characters whom the film puts any effort in developing (even then it’s not much of an effort) — everyone else can be considered stock characters. With that being said, we scarcely get emotionally invested in anybody, and what’s pathetic is not that the film seems to know this, but how it tries to counteract this by killing off its characters in an attempt to evoke some kind of emotion from the audience.

As the film progresses, you’ll find that the characters hardly utter anything outside the common military jargon, like “Covering fire!” and “Move it!” You may criticize such dialogue as typical and unoriginal, but this is slightly justified for two reasons. One, this is a war film. Two, whatever non-military dialogue that is spoken — like a motivational speech — is so cringe-worthy that we should consider ourselves blessed not to hear any more of it.

“Battle: Los Angeles” is one of those films in which the cast must work with what little they are given. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as the actors have the opportunity to show off the range of their abilities. While no Oscar-worthy performances arise from the film, the cast for the most part deliver acceptable work.

By now, you probably have the sense that “Battle: Los Angeles” is one of the typical blockbuster movies that Hollywood churns out every year: a flick which has a poor or unoriginal story yet boasts impressive action sequences and special effects. Surprisingly, the results are mixed even when it comes to the things which would normally be considered the film’s fortes.

Warning: director Jonathan Liebesman’s documentary style of filmmaking will push your eyes to their limit. His camerawork is essentially shaky cam coupled with close-up shots. While this style may heighten a sense of realism, it is headache-inducing, especially when it’s applied for the film’s first 15 minutes, where it’s dialogue-heavy and there’s absolutely no fighting at all.

Thankfully, the camera becomes steadier after the Marines’ first major skirmish, and the film subsequently become much more bearable and enjoyable to watch.

The action scenes are definitely the film’s strong point. Although they aren’t as intense as they ought to be due to our lack of emotional investment in the characters, they do communicate the flurry of combat and noise often felt and heard during warfare.

To identify the invaders as either extraterrestrials or droids is complicating — at times, even the film doesn’t seem certain of what its villains really are. When the aggressors are first revealed, their outer impression appears robotic, so it’s easy to assume that they are intelligent bots. Later, we discover that there is flesh beneath their metal exoskeletons, but after this, we always see them in their exterior form, so we naturally presume once again that they are droids.

In the end, it doesn’t actually matter what the aliens are because their design is a downright disappointment. Considerable time should be spent designing extraterrestrials in any sci-fi film because when we finally see them in all their glory, they should capture our attention in such a way that we cannot help but stare in horror or wonder, like the Xenomorph in the “Alien” franchise or even E.T. in “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.” In this film, the aliens look scrappy, ugly and don’t even warrant a second look — a severe lack of inspiration indeed.

If you think the aliens are poorly designed, wait until you see their aircraft. The craft in “Battle: Los Angeles” are so cheap that they also look as if they could be built with Lego Technic.

The selling point of “Battle: Los Angeles” was that it was going to be a gritty and intense war film with aliens. Alas, it hardly delivers on its potential and capitalizes from barely anything. This is yet another black mark on the science fiction genre, which is already waning as it is.

Rating:  2/5 Stars