For a change of pace from my usual family movie viewing, I decided to check out Battle Los Angeles, an action/thriller/sci-fi film advertised as a
“fight to reclaim the city of Los Angeles from alien invaders.” I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, since I barely remembered the commercials and the description in the paper was vague. Twenty minutes into the movie, I was set to give it a very negative review; forty minutes in, my opinion had made a complete 180; and by the end, I had settled somewhere in the middle.
The film starts with ‘snapshots’ of more than half a dozen Marines on the day before they are thrown into a fight for their lives. One young man says goodbye to his fiancee – another video chats with his sister in Nigeria – another sees a doctor about his shaky recovery from a traumatic war experience. The main character, Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart), gets roped into serving under a young lieutenant who is fresh out of school. Their task: destroy whatever objects have rocketed onto the west coast near Los Angeles before the Forward Operating Base bombs the district, and in particular to evacuate survivors from a police station.
Tensions run high in the group as Lieutenant William Martinez (Ramon Rodriguez) beings to doubt his ability to perform on the field. The mysterious aliens, who are literally fighting machines, injure a large number of platoon members. After picking up a few civilians, as well as stragglers from another group of Marines – including Air Force Sergeant Elena Santos (Michelle Rodriguez), who we may affectionately remember as Trudy Chacon from Avatar or Anna Lucia from LOST – the Marines are slowly watching their numbers decline as the invaders’ forces wax strong. Will this group of very different people learn to respect each other, even with rumors of Nantz’s past coloring his men’s judgment? And more importantly, can the ragtag platoon and the civilians hold Los Angeles against the most unlikely odds?
The beginning of the movie was certainly slow. I didn’t understand the point of introducing us to all these different men and giving us five minutes of back story on each, because by the time they were in combat I couldn’t remember which one couldn’t hold his liquor and which one was kissing his pregnant wife goodbye. Unable to “attach” myself to any of the characters, I let that part of the film wash over me while I waited for the action to start.
But when the action started – boy, did it start! I don’t watch war movies very often, but I found myself unable to tear my eyes away from the screen. For a while, there seemed to be nonstop explosions, running, shooting, invading, and high-adrenaline situations. This was the point where the audience could really start connecting with characters, since they began to individualize as they reacted differently to the dire scenarios. The acting was excellent. I imagine it must be difficult to express the intense gamut of emotions that go on during combat, but these men did a commendable job. Interesting new characters, like Santos (girl power!) and a dutiful civilian father and son, added variety to the
group. Learning about the aliens and their abilities was also cool.
However, there are only so many action sequences someone can take before they all start blending together. Although the explosions continued right up until the last five minutes, I became less impressed as time went on. The plot was nothing brilliant, really – defeat the aliens, save the city, prove something to yourself about how strong and brave you are. The dialogue definitely had its
cute moments, and there were a few funny jokes, but a lot of it was corny. I
hope Marines don’t really pause during the height of a battle to give
motivational speeches, like Nantz did. Some parts got pretty technical, which
was a little hard to follow, but it didn’t impede my appreciation of the film.
The visual effects and the sets were great. Seeing the city razed, and the Los Angeles Airport on fire, was awesome. I wasn’t a fan of the cinematography, though – lots of close-ups and quick, clipped shots that made me dizzy. I suppose they were trying to echo the tone of the combat, but it was tough to watch.
Battle Lost Angeles, in theaters for just over a week, has received largely negative reviews so far. It’s currently second in the Box Office after Rango. I can see where reviewers wouldn’t be thrilled with it, but honestly, I think it’s one of those things where you need to know exactly what it is you’re going to watch. The sci-fi aspect, although heavily advertised, is minimal. The interpersonal relationships aren’t given much development outside the first twenty minutes. It’s essentially a war movie.
So, in conclusion – not something you’d take the kids to see, but a fun flick if you’re a fan of action films.
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