Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Battle: Los Angeles (2011)

Battle: Los Angeles is a surprisingly competent and impressive production, and not only because it doesn’t suck. Sure, you can highlight its shortcomings – the character clichés, the cheesy empowerment moments, the awkward “maybe I can help, I’m a veterinarian” beats and the occasional logic bumps. But Jonathan Liebesman’s film is also a “retreat hell” action flick with a committed cast and a secret weapon – the ability to, in a well-worn alien invasion sub-genre, feel remotely original.

There’s a little bit of War of the Worlds here, a little bit of Aliens and Independence Day there. But ultimately Battle: L.A. is a military film, an unto the breach approach to combat with an alien enemy that could just as well be any enemy at all. These aren’t floating orbs shooting lasers from the sky or brainsucking tentacle monsters. These are ground soldiers, storming the beach.

Battling back is the usual bunch of tough-talking marines you find in today’s war flicks – established characatures, just this side of developed. They’re lead by a square-jarred Aaron Eckhart in heavy-hearted hoorah glory. Eckhart’s SSgt. Nantz is just about out when the invasion pulls him back in and inserts him in a rescue team tasked with pulling civilians out of Venice before the military blows it and most of the invasion force to kingdom come. Dropped headfirst into hostile territory, Nantz and his team must navigate an American neighborhood-turned-war zone while dodging a brutal and unknown enemy.

The unknown turns out to be vaguely and thankfully familiar – roughly humanistic soldiers using heavy artillery and military strategy to corner, divide and conquer. It isn’t completely a fair fight, but it feels close to it. For a flick about aliens from outer space, Battle: L.A. feels pretty grounded.

Of course, the script from Christopher Bertolini (1999’s The General’s Daughter) originally came with lasers, a little boy with a sixth “alien locator” sense and a Predators-like alien vs. Nantz vendetta. Rewrites replaced that with internal-troop conflict and Michelle Rodriguez. Clearly somebody had their thinking cap on that day.

And generally, that’s how Battle: Los Angeles feels – thought-through and time-crafted. I’ve heard complaints that it feels like a videogame, as it escalates from one level to the next with increasing stakes and tougher antagonistic obstacles… but I’d argue that’s just a testament to the inherent sense of story within those games. Liebesman doesn’t shoot it like a video game, and the film unravels with a very steady sense of mortality.

In fact, unlike many alien-invasion flicks, Battle: Los Angeles doesn’t feel like a game at all. It feels fatal and honest.

Sort of like the opposite of a Michael Bay flick.


The Bru said...

Great review, now I have to see it.

DubMC said...

It is worth seeing, but not in a "rush out and see it right away" sense. It's good, but far short of great.


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