Review : Battle Los Angeles
Described ad nauseum as “BLACK HAWK DOWN WITH ALIENS” by bloggers and its own filmmakers, Battle Los Angeles arrives onscreen with a resounding lack of flair or passion. Being that the film's entire point seems only to evoke other pop-culture memories, it makes sense that what we get is a utterly limp action picture. Ridley Scott's aforementioned film (which was inspired by The Battle of Algiers itself) used semi-cinema-verite with plot and characters driven entirely by action to comment on the confusion and brotherhood of war. Being that those themes are hardly original, the subtle integration of them within an action-extravaganza made them feel actually powerful and not maudlin or cheesy. But of course since Battle Los Angeles has nothing actually on its mind other than entertainment, it feels almost offensively hollow.
The film starts with the action in high-gear as CNN newsfeeds give us essentially all the exposition we require, unfortunately the film doesn't trust this enough and instantly cuts to 24 hours before to give us “character development”. Only further ruining this is the use of Tupac and Dr. Dre's “California Love” to segue us into this segment. It's refreshing that a popcorn movie doesn't have to take itself too seriously, but considering the film's aesthetic, it feels awfully cheap. Our character introductions are given the most arbitrary, shallow development possible. Pvt. Nigerian Guy has a sister back home, Cpl. Hoyt from True Blood uh…he…uh…drinks beer I guess and apparently IMDB tells me that R&B superstar Ne-Yo is in it, great. The hand-held camera draws only further attention to how cliche the dialogue is and equally ruins the film's attempt at a documentary feel. A particularly ridiculous scene in a graveyard would've worked perfectly with camerawork and music that realized how trite it was, such as in a Roland Emmerich film. Though, at this point I was still willing to give the film a chance. After all, we're here for the set-pieces.
Here comes the key problem, the film's set-pieces are for a better word, boring. Thinking that sound and fury = excitement, they just seem to begin and then end. They lack any sense of kineticism, the most im
portant part of action dating back from Griffith to Eisenstein to Kurosawa to Spielberg to Greengrass. A character shoots, the camera shakes a bit, the alien is easily defeated. The stakes never seem to rise much throughout the film either. The best comparison is that it's like watching someone else play a video-game. The sight of a billboard for Resistance 3 in the background of a set-piece only seemed like a cruel reminder of this. The one image in any of the set-pieces that struck a chord with me was when Pvt. Southern Guy has powder spilled on him as he's engaged in combat; it seemed like a genuine evocation of the silliness inherent in the chaos of war. The apocalyptic images that accompany the title city can be briefly powerful, but almost too short-lived or reigned in by the PG-13 to actually be genuinely frightening. Making the rubble of one of the largest cities in the world resemble a war-zone in Baghdad doesn't feel as compelling as it should either; the aforementioned Roland Emmerich made better use of a California wasteland in (the far sillier, but far better) Independence Day by having its characters have stronger interaction with it. The film makes an interesting choice of mostly keeping the aliens at a distance, beside a scene in which Sgt. Chin (Sorry Eckhart) and the mother of Tom Brady's firstborn are inspecting one, we never learn too much about them. It's refreshing in a way that the film at least makes one aesthetic and storytelling choice that feels like it fits in the film's goals, but after awhile it just seems like, what is even the point of it being aliens? It barely feels like science-fiction and only furthers the fact that we're watching is just a first-person shooter.
Despite having nearly nothing positive to say this, I can't feel too much anger over it. Simply put, it's just a aggressively pointless movie that evokes no emotion. I remember when the Halo short films came out and how impressed the internet seemed to be over them. While it is interesting to see a video-game treated as a serious war film, the gimmick eventually wears out after five minutes, which is why those were wisely short-films, not a feature-length films that wastes a hundred millions dollars, the talents of Aaron Eckhart and Michael Pena and most importantly, your two hours.
It’s a hard movie to rally around based on its silly dialogue and sillier plot points, but I still enjoyed “Battle: LA.” I found the aliens vicious and threatening, and the sense of dread at what they might do next never left me.
Yes, the shaky cam is used way too much, especially during early scenes when they’re trying to establish character, not shock and awe.
Kudos to Eckhart for anchoring an otherwise brainless romp.