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April 21st, 2011

Battle: Los Angeles

Directed by Jonathan Liebesman | Runtime: 116 min

Reviewed by Shane Lightowler

Battle: Los Angeles tries very hard to be this generation's version of War of the Worlds / Independance Day. This sort of movie doesn't come around too often because the technical bar for these films keeps getting raised. Suffice to say a significant budget is required to even attempt a full-scale alien invasion flick, otherwise you end up with something like last year's Skyline... or worse yet, an aborted project like the ill-fated version of Alien 3 which was to be set on Earth.

The film follows the efforts of a squad of soldiers who must trek across downtown Los Angeles carrying out a variety of risky missions in the midst of a seemingly unstoppable alien invasion. The movie plays out just like a video game - an orgy of escalating violence leading to a massive boss-fight at the end. In fact, Battle: LA might be the best non-video-game video game movie ever made. Obviously not high praise, but I thought I'd throw it out there.

The film's aesthetic owes much to recent war movies like Black Hawk Down, so those who dislike shakey-cam and blitzkreig-like editorial techniques are advised to steer clear. Much of the action is so intentionally chaotic that it wouldn't suprise me if a large chunk of the action scenes were completely devised or reworked in the editing room post-shooting. Those looking for slow-burning, Sergio Leone-style build-up and action will have naught to look forward to here.

Duly, Battle: LA features some absolutely stunning special effects. The alien ships possibly snatch a bit too much from District 9, but the way they are able to arrange themselves in different configurations is pretty cool. The Aliens themselves are slightly disappointing - tall, lithe bipedals that echo those from M. Night Shyamalan's Signs. The movie completely ignores issues like why the Aliens aren't attacking from orbit, etc etc, because it clearly wants to cut straight to the action and mayhem... of which there is plenty.

The action in Battle: LA is completely unrelenting, which will appeal to many. For others though, the intensity soons grows wearisome, and desensitisation kicks in fairly early on. Perhaps this was an intentional device in order to make us viscerally feel the harrowing brutality of war? It doesn't help matters that the characters in the film are given only the barest possible characterisations. For most action films this is usually not a problem, but Battle: LA wants so badly for the action to feel close to home, that the film lets itself down by not giving us anyone believable. Much of the action takes place in tightly-shot abandoned homes that do have a genuine personal feel to them, but this ambition is let down by characterisations that don't feel like an integrated part of the universe. The characters could be any action stereotypes we've seen before, tacked onto the script like automatons. This is exemplified by Michelle Rodriguez's character, who is just like every other character Michelle Rodriguez has ever played. Again, this can work given the right film, but its hard disassociate Rodriguez's character here with her previous roles, hence making it hard for the audience to sympathise with her as a 'real' person. Aaron Eckhart tries hard in the lead role as the squad's eventual leader, but is saddled with a lame version of the 'hero with a shadey past' trope we've seen a million times before in other (better) war movies.

In summary, I do give Battle: LA a mild recommendation, primarily for the special effects and plenty of action. The filming will not be to everyone's tastes nor will many appreciate the blatant American jingoism, however the film's primary audience (young men) should find enough to keep them entertained. Battle: LA isn't going to go down as a classic - it's simply too mindless. But it's a fun movie nonetheless (if you can tolerate its faults) and as mentioned at the start, big-budget alien invasion movies are a rare breed, and thus need to be appreciated, if just for effort, when they do pop up.

Thumbs middling.


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