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A UFO-Based War Movie That Works

Movie Review: Battle: Los Angeles (2011)
Summary: A Marine platoon faces off against an alien invasion in Los Angeles.
Spoilers: none

Just the title is enough to raise interest: “Battle: Los Angeles!” Sounds like a rallying point, perhaps even the place of a great victory speech. The story must of necessity be epic, right? Audiences go in expecting a great movie that goes all out to provide excitement in one of the most anticipated films of the year by far.

Our story begins with what never ceases the whole movie through—explosions and flying debris. The brief interlude of shrapnel and smoke is followed by a preface brought to us by the broadcasting news stations introducing us to a war that has engulfed the entire world. From there, we meet our main characters, starting with “Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz” (Aaron Eckhart), a veteran combat leader whose last assignment resulted in the deaths of several of his close and trusted men.

Prodded from an early retirement, Nantz is called back into action with a new unit under his command, including “2nd Lt. William Martinez” (Ramon Rodriguez). We first see the young man kissing his pregnant wife goodbye. This and other war movie clichés are employed, but they aren’t intolerable. It’s what’s real that sells this action-junkie piece of war fodder. Like shortly thereafter, we see a helicopter-full of young men whose faces betray fear, knowing that training is long over. This is the real thing – beyond the real thing, in fact – it is war with the fighters from another world.

What at first are thought to be meteorites are found to be extraterrestrial beings leading an assault from the Pacific Ocean and heading inward, conquering as far as Los Angeles. When they enter the atmosphere, these assumed meteorites slow down. They can’t be asteroids then. When they become visible behind clouds of steam and smoke, the debate is forever over—we are not alone in the universe, and our newfound cosmos companions are out looking for a fight.

Our marines are tossed into the throws of war. Writing home, making promises prelude to battle, and watching the news, fighting not to become victims of an ever-growing panic about “unknown invaders,” the plot is all the while moving slowly forward, with even a few moments of comic relief to broaden impact on the emotional spectrum.

Nantz’s assignment and that of his men: to march through the neighborhoods of Santa Monica (why not call it, Battle: Santa Monica?) and assist with the evacuation of the remaining civilians. But with smoke concealing the enemy and certain death coming to meet them, this will not be easy. And the clock is ticking, since they must be out of the area before the bombs get dropped some 3-hours after arrival.

As the combat begins, Nantz and his men ally with others caught in the red zone, including Air Force Communications Officer, “Elena Santos” (Michelle “Avatar” Rodriguez, who re-emerges in nearly the same over-the-top “gunner girl” character as in Cameron’s movie) and some civilians (“Michelle” Bridget Moynahan, the young “Hector Rincon” Bryce Cass, and his father “Joe Rincon” Michael Peña). R&B performer Ne-Yo is “Corporal Kevin Harris,” but I have no idea why he is here.

In some respects, Battle: Los Angeles is a must-see. For those who come to drink from the wells of video game-style bullets, fallen buildings, and explosive mayhem, it is a viewer’s dream. With a more than healthy theme geared towards patriotism, I found it strongly reminiscent of what we saw in Independence Day (1996), where an alien force came to earth to rob our planet of its natural resources. Minus their force fields and transcendent technology, these enemies of humanity (who resemble those from District 9 a little too much) are after the same thing, or so it is assumed.

Battle: Los Angeles borrows from many of the major sci-fi works in existence. The keen viewer will spot the many buried elements as he/she sees them, including War of the Worlds (2007), as these beings have been hiding on earth for some time, confirming the UFO legends we’ve been bombarded with for years. But comparing Battle: Los Angeles to Independence Day is a no-go; the former stays more down-to-earth with a non-wondering eye on the intensity of the combat struggle. Its plot is not made soggy in bad humor or one glaring plot-hole that damn-near ruins everything like with Independence Day.

The turbocharged scene changes and shaky camerawork make it hard to focus on any one shot for a decent amount of time, but this isn’t too damning. It has a way of keeping the viewer watching and waiting to get a closer look at these attackers as though startled. The focus isn’t on the “how” or the “why,” or even the “who,” but on the fact that now is the time to fight. Just ignore some limp dialog and that won’t be hard.

The pro-humanity, pro-military message behind the earth’s brave and proud elites taking on the militia of a foreign world suffers from the same persistent concern that almost all alien attack movies do in that they can never get around the issue that if these aliens are advanced enough to arrive on earth, they can certainly be expected to mull through our best defenses on our best day. But I suppose there’s no harm in choosing to believe that a few good marines can turn the tables on at least a stronghold or two.

The movie boasts great respect for the physics of metal strengths and structural damage incurred through use of incendiary devices, employment of attack strategies, and a scientifically backed reason suggested for a worldwide alien attack, making it much better than last year's lower-budget flop, Skyline.

We never get to learn very much about anyone beyond exchanges before or during combat, though we don’t have time to reflect on the fact that we missed it while watching. Those who thrive on panic and intensity will relish it, as Battle: Los Angeles gives us what we want and need in a pre-summertime dynamite destruction-fest.

(JH)

Grade: B- (3 stars)
Rated: PG-13 (for sustained and intense sequences of war violence and destruction, and for language)
Director: Jonathan Liebesman
Starring: “SSgt. Michael Nantz” (Aaron Eckhart), “2nd Lt. William Martinez” (Ramon Rodriguez), “Cpl. Jason Lockett” (Cory Hardrict), “Cpl. Nick Stavrou” (Gino Anthony Pesi), “Cpl. Kevin Harris” (Ne-Yo), “Michele” (Bridget Moynahan), “Pfc. Shaun Lenihan” (Noel Fisher), “Corpsman Jibril Adukwu” (Adetokumboh M’Cormack), “Hector Rincon” (Bryce Cass), “Joe Rincon” (Michael Peña), “TSgt. Elena Santos” (Michelle Rodriguez), “LCpl. Richard Guerrero” (Neil Brown Jr.), “LCpl. Corey Simmons” (Taylor Handley)
Genre: Action / Sci-Fi / Thriller
Trailer

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