Battle: Los Angeles

Director: Jonathan Liebesman
Starring: Michelle Rodriguez, Aaron Eckhart
Runtime: 116 mins
Rating: *

This film is showing in York at Reel Cinema. Click here for more information.

You get the impression whilst watching Battle: Los Angeles that someone agreed to its production extremely early on. “Shaky-cam alien invasion? Sold! As long as it’s PG-13…” The film doesn’t seem to wish to justify itself beyond that definition. No single aspect of the film is developed any further than is necessary to make it loosely coherent, cherry-picking cynically from many films (notably Cloverfield and Black Hawk Down) and wrapping it up in a package I found almost completely unendurable.

Major cities of the world are attacked as alien troops crash-land onboard meteorites and start killing everyone, an act which is inexplicably described by a military commander as a “textbook” invasion. No actual reason is given for this attack, except for some speculation that they want our water: a guy wearing glasses, therefore a scientist, appears on TV and explains that our planet is rare in that it has liquid water. So our alien invaders are capable of interplanetary flight but cannot melt ice, which they could find in places that don’t house angry terrestrial life with, y’know, nuclear weapons, and so after scratching their big oval heads for a while they come and invade us instead of having a nice relaxing trip to Europa.

If correct, this inane military reasoning would, in fact, be far and away the most interesting aspect of our invaders. I should be looking out for glimpses of the alien soldiers, fascinated by their bizarre and unique biological make-up and behaviour. However, as soon as we see one close-up, any potential for interest is gone. Compared to Giger’s Alien, District 9‘s ‘prawns’ and numerous other examples, the aliens we are presented with are just extremely dull. Doing just enough to warrant the film’s genre, the aliens certainly don’t look human: but they don’t have the air of the unknown and uncanny that extra-terrestrial life ought to. Rather, they look like a couple of machine guns glued to some road kill.

This failing would perhaps to excusable if the human side of the drama was particularly engaging. Unfortunately we are expected to care for a group of walking clichés spouting dialogue such as “You’re the best damn marine I’ve ever served with!” Each marine is introduced with on-screen text to tell us their name and rank, presumably because otherwise they would all be pretty much indistinguishable. They also appear to be either incredibly brave or incredibly stupid in the face of this invasion. Early on in the film they are told meteorites have landed at a beach and that they are being mobilised; nobody seems to question this. My favourite part, however, was when their leader explains that there are metal pods in the meteorites, housing troops, and that they are to prepare for combat. A conversation is overheard, “So dude, what’s your take on this?”, “I don’t know, extra-terrestrial?”, “Woah, you mean like aliens!?”. No mate, he means those terrestrial troop-housing meteorites we hear about so regularly.

The film relies on a Paul Greengrass-esque shaky-cam intensity to portray the intensity of the invasion. The key to making visceral combat scenes work is that we actually give a damn about the people being shown. For me to be more concerned with feeling nauseous due to the camera work than with the fate of the characters is proof of what is ultimately the films biggest failing. If you cannot empathise with the men and women being put in these situations then any tension is lost. Who can forget the assault on Ramelle in Saving Private Ryan the tanks causing the earth to rumble and quake? That is what a war film should feel like. Given time to develop properly I can see a soldiers-view alien invasion film being very interesting and involving. Disappointingly and frustratingly, what we have received instead is a half-baked and formulaic war film with a bit of the extra-terrestrial thrown in for good measure.

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