Friday, March 18, 2011

"Battle: Los Angeles" (2011)

Starring Aaron Eckhart, Michelle Rodriguez, Bridget Moynihan
Written by Christopher Bertolini
Directed by Jonathan Liebesman
Rated PG-13 - War violence, language
Running Time: 116 minutes

All the pre-release info I read about "Battle: Los Angeles" brought me to one conclusion: this was not going to be any kind of great story for the ages, no great Oscar winner with deep themes to explore.  This was essentially a "Call of Duty" movie... with aliens.

With that in mind, my expectations going into "Battle: Los Angeles" were fairly low.  All I wanted was to sit down and watch Marines fuck shit up for two hours.  Thankfully, that's exactly what "Battle: Los Angeles" delivers.  It spends the first fifteen minutes or so  introducing the cannon fodder characters that we're going to follow through the course of the film - the dude about to get married, the dude who's about to become a father, the dude who's about to retire from the Corps, the dude who wants to be a US citizen, the virgin, etc.  Then, it gets right to the meat and potatoes: aliens are invading our world, and the United States Marine Corps is not about to take that sitting down.

Staff Sergeant Mike Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) is assigned to a new squad under the command of newly-minted Lieutenant William Martinez (Ramon Rodriguez).  The new platoon is wary of Nantz, considering that several of his men on his last tour didn't make it out alive - including the brother of one of Nantz' new squadmates.  Early one morning, meteors begin to strike the ocean off the coasts of the United States and a variety of other countries.  Soon enough, the world learns that these are actually invading alien shock troops.  The aliens come marching right out of the water, blasting away at everything that moves.

Nantz, Martinez and the squad are sent into Santa Monica to rescue civilians trapped in the local police station and escort them to an evacuation point.  Sounds simple enough, except that the squad gets cut off and separated and the aliens suddenly reveal that they have major air support.  The squad comes across an Air Force Tech Sergeant Elena Santos (Michelle Rodriguez) who informs them that she's searching for a command station that allows the aliens to remote pilot their air drones.  Nantz and the others must find a way to make it through the enemy lines, protecting a group of civilians including a veterinarian (Bridget Moynihan) and three small children.  But they can't do that, and no one will be safe, until they can locate and destroy the drone command station and give the air back to the United States military.

The story here is paper-thin, and the characters are... well, there's not much to them at all.  They are what they are: a bunch of nobody Marines who get dropped into a shit situation and try to come out alive.  Frankly, I can't even remember their names and had to look them up on Wikipedia in order to write that description.  Ultimately, it doesn't matter.  They're really not the point here.  The point is to show a series of encounters, a grunt's eye view of an alien invasion, with lots of shattering gunfire and rocking explosions.  Try not to think too hard about things like how the aliens use our water for fuel, or that talking heads on CNN make weird claims about Earth having the only liquid water in the universe.  There's not much real meat to anything here besides the combat.

"Battle: Los Angeles" is not an alien invasion film.  It's a war movie, where the enemy happens to be aliens.  Most of the dialogue is military technical jargon; characters order each other around, clear right, clear left, frag out, fire in the hole, and refer to each other by their rank.  There's lots of shouts of "Get out of there!" "Move!" and so on and so forth.  It's all very thrilling and very well-produced, if you mind not caring at all about any of the characters.  I only managed to care in the sense of, I understood that these were men dying while doing their duty, which happens all the time to real-life Marines.  One character laments that he'd rather be in Afghanistan than fighting house-to-house in the streets of Los Angeles against alien invaders.

The closest analogue to "Battle: Los Angeles" is "Black Hawk Down," or the "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare" videogames.  In fact, upon exiting the theatre all I really wanted to do was boot up "Modern Warfare 2" and have a go.

There was a lot of shaky camera going on in the action sequences.  Even though at times it was difficult to make out the images on the screen, strangely I never felt lost watching it.  I knew where the characters were and what they were doing, even if the camera was zooming about, debris and tracer fire blasting every which way.  There's also a good variety to the locations and encounters the squad finds themselves in, so I didn't find that I was getting bored by having the same firefight over and over again. Of course, this also lends to the videogame feel of the movie.

Overall, I got what I wanted out of this movie.  It absolutely glorifies the United States Marines, but honestly, those guys could use it.  They put their lives on the line all the time and even if I don't support some of what they do and where they do it, I have to honor them as an organization and what they stand for.  If you want to watch the Marines hoof into a bad combat situation with only their guts and a few bullets with which to kick ass, "Battle: Los Angeles" is a pretty sweet ride.