Review: Liebesman's 'Battle: Los Angeles' Aims to Excite and Hits!
by Jeremy Kirk
March 11, 2011
Battle: Los Angeles is smart enough to know it's not that smart. It doesn't try to be too many steps ahead of its audience and for good reason. This isn't about intricately detailed plot journeys or ideologies grander than a sidewalk puddle. This is about full-force destruction and blowing stuff up. It's about being loud, exciting, and looking great while achieving both of those things, and that is precisely where Battle: Los Angeles succeeds. Or should I say, "tears it up?" You should never check your brain at the door. That's not what this preamble is about, but certain movies blast their way onto your eyeballs with such a fury that you almost forgive the plot holes, lame dialogue, and weak character development, all of which are on hand here.
In Battle: Los Angeles, those weak characters are the Marines, rugged, hardened, and ready to blast any invading body that dares set foot on American soil with an eye for domination. In fact, Battle: Los Angeles could be used as a recruiting piece for the United States Marines Corps. JOIN THE MARINES! YOU NEVER KNOW WHEN ALIENS MIGHT INVADE! And so it goes 24 hours after alien invaders land on Earth and begin wiping us out that the Marines are called into Los Angeles, to hold that line at Santa Monica lest our visiting attackers from the sky continue to walk all over us.
Chris Bertolini's script uses jarhead as a characteristic to great lengths. Of course there's a visible difference between each soldier in the platoon we follow. That's a given. However, characteristically, they may as well have names like Solder #1 and Soldier #2. Some of them are given individualizing back stories, most of which feeds into the obvious melodrama of watching some of them die. It adds a weight when those moments occur, but, for the most part, any idiomaticness found in Battle: Los Angeles is found at the surface level.
The only real standout in terms of character arc, as it would be, is the hero, Nantz, played by hard-jawed and gruff-voiced Aaron Eckhart. Nantz is a soldier who has lost too many men under his command. Recently retired from active duty, he is called back in when the extraterrestrial apocalypse begins raining down. Now, under the command of another, a member of a troop made up of soldiers who have heard stories about his past losses - including the brother of a soldier who died under Nantz's command - Nantz must contend with the blight on his reputation and name and the survivor's guilt found welling up inside him.
But enough about silly things like character building and plot nuance. All of that as well as news images of the aliens landing and beginning their trek towards total dominance is crammed into the first 20-30 minutes. After that, once the soldiers set foot onto the cloudy and crumbling streets of Los Angeles, the action begins. For 90 minutes, it hardly lets up creating a whirling barrage of battle scene imagery.
Jonathan Liebesman directs the action in Battle: Los Angeles with a furious pace. There's a hardness to the film when it comes to the action both in terms of sound and visual execution. When guns are fired, the sound rips through the speakers like a piercing wave. When explosions are set off, they roar. With the camera right in the middle of the action, it become disorienting at times, a definite call-back to the dizzying fury from past war films like Black Hawk Down or the opening moments of Saving Private Ryan. This is clearly a sense memory Liebesman wanted to accentuate to his audience with the fight scenes in Battle: Los Angeles.
The camerawork is jittery, that commonplace “put you right in the middle of the action” shaky cam that so many directors feel the necessity to incorporate. Few directors know how to utilize this technique without prompting a sense of confusion, that issue of never being able to differentiate between the soldiers or know what is happening when bullets and laser blasts are flying. That's present to a certain extent in Battle: Los Angeles, but it's never so confounding as to be completely lost in blurred shot composition or bewildering editing. Liebesman shoots in such a way that the excitement and intensity of the battles never gets in the way of knowing which soldier is at the center of any particular moment.
The successful shaky cam technique also does wonders for certain CGI-laden moments in Battle: LA. The aliens themselves as well as their drone ships that swoop in blasting everything in sight are all CG. There are certain times in the film where Liebesman holds on them a little longer than he should, and the wonkiness of their design and the effects stands out. Thankfully, we mostly only see them in quick glimpses and flashes as the shot jerks past the scene at hand.
Shaky cam can't do much for jarring lines of dialogue, though, some of which are obviously looped in after the fact just to provide expository information to the audience. Those moments are about as lame as the film's writing gets, and they take you right out of any action that might be going on around it.
But through hokey computer effects, loopy dialogue, and characters who are different in looks alone, a fast-paced, exciting bit of bravado booms through in Battle: Los Angeles. The film itself is a grunt. It has a job to do. It sets out to do that job, and it succeeds using maximum brutal force. The goal at hand here is to entertain, to give audiences two hours of exhilaration, to feed the video game appetites of action-craving masses. Where the film falters in story it all but makes up for in execution and design. Battle: Los Angeles is alien-blasting good fun, and that's all it claims to be. Had it set out for something greater and failed, no amount of aggressiveness or intensity could have saved it from backlash, but it's a good little soldier, and like a good little soldier it does its job exceedingly well.
Jeremy's Rating: 7.5 out of 10