“You mean like from space?”: ‘Battle: Los Angeles’ Review
Ever since the earliest science fiction films, alien invasions continue to be some of the cinema’s choice picks for a big spectacle. Whether it’s a cerebral approach (The Day the Earth Stood Still from 1951) or a big blockbuster (Independence Day), the topic of extraterrestrial life invading the Earth is one that continues to be a fascinating theme in the genre. Battle: Los Angeles, which provides a “you are there” approach to an alien invasion, feels somewhat familiar to some of the other classics of the genre, while still managing to provide some pretty exciting action.
Directed with an intimate immediacy by Jonathan Liebesman (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), Battle: Los Angeles is less concerned with a thought-provoking look at an alien invasion and more concerned with giving the viewer a tense experience into what it would be like if the military fought against an alien threat. The main crux of the story is that a group of marines, led by a retiring Marine Staff Sergeant (Aaron Eckhart), must make their way across the streets of a war-torn Los Angeles as alien forces attack humanity. One of the really interesting aspects of Liebesman’s film is the fact that the aliens’ motives are never really revealed, you never know exactly why they have descended on earth and why they are attacking, they just show up. That tiny detail actually makes that aspect of the story a little bit more frightening and mysterious; there’s something ominous about forces that we don’t understand that come down to our planet to attack it and destroy it.
While Battle: Los Angeles has that bit of mystery in its storytelling, the rest of the film feels very familiar to other war films and, in conjunction, other science fiction films. And even if we spend a lot of time with the main core of characters, they’re all archetypes that we’ve seen before in much better films. Even though Eckhart does a great job of bringing that gravitas to his retiring marine, the film doesn’t really allow him to be anything else other than a great commanding presence; there’s little to no character development among the group of heroes even though we do spend a lot of time with them.
Aside from Eckhart, the film benefits from fine performances from its cast, including Ramon Rodriguez as USMC 2nd Lieutenant William Martinez and Michelle Rodriguez as USAF Technical Sargeant Elena Santos. Battle: Los Angeles also features appearances from Bridget Moynahan, Ne-Yo, Michael Pena and Lucas Till. Even though Liebesman shoots the action sequences through an intense “you are there” feel, that look at times detracts from getting a glimpse at the alien invaders – the design overall seems somewhat underwhelming and it doesn’t help that you can’t clearly make out what they look like.
Battle: Los Angeles has a great intention to differentiate itself from previous alien invasion films (to experience an invasion with a combat perspective) but even though there are some great technical aspects to it, it can’t help but feel like somewhat of a retread to other films. There’s a great cast and some of the action sequences are major standouts but the overall character development feels a bit tired.