Alien invasion is not a new theme in storytelling. From H.G. Wells classic novel to Orson Welles re-telling on a radio broadcast to Steven Spielberg’s underrated film adaptation; and to 1996’s blockbuster hit Independence Day, the list goes on and on. Bringing something new to the table is key to keeping this theme alive and new. Battle: Los Angeles offers very little in this regard. Granted, a few very minimal ideas, unfortunately they are lost by, what I could conceive as, a committee of movie studio board members looking to broaden and dumb down those ideas for a mass audience. Is this so wrong? Not really, if you like mindless, loud, ‘machine-go-boom’ action, then you might like Battle: Los Angeles. There’s nothing wrong with that. But when those elements get cloudy and lost with, what I can perceive, as a story with uninteresting, cliché characters, then I would say, yes, there’s something wrong with that.
Set in, you guessed it, Los Angeles, during what would be a day when mysterious meteors race towards the Earth, as a normal day for last-day-on-the-job (cliché #1) for U.S. Marine Staff Sargent Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart). But if you throw, in about-to-get-married Corporal (cliché #2), his tough-guy-from-New Jersey friend (cliché #3), Corporal angry-about-the-unjust-death-of-his-brother-during-combat (cliché #4), tough-girl-played-by-Michelle-Rodriguez (cliché #5) played by Michelle Rodriguez and a lieutenant leaving-his-very-pregnant-wife- for-his-first-mission-as-commander (cliché #6). It seemed as if the writer had a checklist of character archetypes next to them as they were writing this screenplay. Add in some trapped civilians for good measure (cliché #7) and intro the first act with a news report telling you (the audience) what is going on (cliché #8) with an anonymous scientist-type (cliché #9) when things need to get technical and you pretty much have the groundwork for this movie.
The film offers plenty of explosions and battle scenes, shot interestingly with an eye like Paul Greengrass. For the most part, I did enjoy these scenes. They were well done and effective. But what’s insulting is the filmmaker never gives the audience enough credit. If we can follow the intricate battle sequences then why are the story and its characters spoon-fed to us? We never get credit for following anything outside of these scenes. I wish the filmmaker took a stance on wanting to deliver this Paul Greengrass-esque world or not. This film is more like Skyline than Blackhawk Down or District 9 and more like ‘duh! ‘splosions make happy’ than ‘Wow! That was surprisingly engaging’.
I really wanted to like this film and I felt let down that it felt the need to pander to 14 year-old boys. Yes, this movie feels like a video game, but without the interaction or engagement of one, and it was just as fun as if I were watching a video game without having a controller in my hands and the person I’m watching playing the video game is just making the characters go around in circles without purpose or direction as they laugh, cheer and bellow out the occasional ‘woo-hoo’. I guess this was the right move, Battle: Los Angeles made $36 Million on its opening weekend. I guess, you win studio executives, 14 year-old boys are more important to filmmaking than storytelling, you win…