It seems we still like an alien invasion movie because, hot on the heels of Monsters and Skyline, already here’s another one – and there has been a lot of interest expressed so far in seeing Battle: Los Angeles, albeit mostly from video game-playing kidults.
Which makes sense, as it plays out just like a shoot-em-up video game, dropping you straight into the action and bombarding you with relentless battle scenes, often played out in extreme close up.
The story is kept simple: when a swarm of undetected ‘meteors’ hits the Earth’s atmosphere, the US military is swiftly deployed to Los Angeles – one of the first towns under threat – and briefed about what appears to be an alien invasion. The attack begins immediately and the forces spring into action. A small team of marines, including Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) who had planned to retire, is ordered behind enemy lines to rescue a group of trapped civilians before a planned bombing raid. But they get more than they bargained for as they fight against alien ground forces and deadly aerial drones. Can they escape with their lives – and Los Angeles – in tact?
“An alien invasion action movie starring Aaron Eckhart?” you may ask quizzically. You’d expect it to be something of a departure from the standard CGI-packed apocalyptic fare dished out by Hollywood, such is Eckhart’s pedigree and while it aims to give us something slightly different, it actually succeeds only in creating a sense of déjà vu as it re-hashes chunks of stuff we’ve seen several times over.
Director Jonathan Liebesman’s intention is to bring us a gritty alien attack flick with the feel of a war film, combining elements from the likes of Independence Day and War of the Worlds with contemporary war films like Saving Private Ryan and Black Hawk Down. Instead, what we get is a formulaic and unengaging science fiction actioner that falls some distance short of the standards set by its predecessors.
As a result of its intentions, it ends up feeling like it takes itself way too seriously. And because of this, it fails to entertain or engross. Without the charm of an irreverent character like Will Smith’s in Independence Day, it fails to draw us in and it fails to make the ride fun. Its unoriginal feel also means it lacks tension, thrills and spills and the overuse of the handheld camera grates and distances, rather than working to immerse us in the proceedings.
Of course, in a film like this, the computer generated imagery is important. It doesn’t disappoint as such in Battle: Los Angeles (it’s pretty impressive seeing LA turned into a warzone) but the camerawork and editing mean its impact is lessened. You just can’t see what’s going on all that well.
The characterisation is also problematic. Although there is some attempt to set up characters that we care about, it’s difficult to muster up much sympathy for anyone involved largely because of the lack of humour in the film and the dreadful Stilton-esque dialogue.
Michelle Rodriguez’s welcome presence in a typical role in which she brandishes a firearm and snarls badass-style sadly isn’t enough to save this second-rate alien-based actioner. Never mind Battle: Los Angeles: the biggest battle you’ll face in the cinema is wrestling against your desire to walk out early.