Battle: Los Angeles wastes little time before insulting the audience. For the alien invasion film’s opening scenes, there are no actual extraterrestrials or any interplanetary warfare.
The only onslaught is the barrage of truncated backstories given to over ten Marine soldiers, the most prominent being a Staff Sergeant (Aaron Eckhart) who’s about to hang up his uniform. Within less than ten minutes, and after random use of 2Pac’s “California Love,” we meet a soldier whose wife is pregnant, another coping with psychiatric issues in the presence of a doctor, a young and inexperienced one who can’t hold his booze, and a smooth-talker on the verge of marriage (this one is played by Ne-Yo, for no explicable reason). Call them Troop Cliche; in a better movie, their set-ups would pay off in some dramatic third act ways, but not in Battle: Los Angeles.
In director Jonathan Liebesman’s exceedingly problematic sensory attack, the bios tossed at the audience out the gate are quickly rendered pointless once the aliens show up, and, worst of all, the aliens themselves aren’t all that interesting or imposing.
Battle: Los Angeles hastily turns into a plot-deficient video game that overstays its welcome (the film clocks in at an unnecessary two hours) and fails to extract a single “Wow” from any viewer older than, say, 12 years old.
The morsel of narrative that does exist in the film can be easily summed up: Abrasive space invaders rampage Earth while stealing our water supply, and a group of Marines has to save civilians in under three hours before Santa Monica gets totally bombed, and we’re not talking liquor.
As the movie drags on with one action sequence after another, one gets the impression that Liebesman (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning) manned the production with the giddy energy of a kid playing Call Of Duty. He’s in such a rush to proceed into the next bullet-storm that the sporadic and brief moments of human interaction fall Kate-Moss-flat. The excessive amount of shaky-cam direction and incoherent action support this point.
By the movie’s halfway point, it becomes abundantly clear that the earlier character-driven scenes (Ne-Yo’s about to get hitched!) were nothing more than prerequisite inclusions.
A strange thing happens at the beginning of the third act, though—Liebesman and futile screenwriter Christopher Bertolini suddenly remember that films, even ones about robotic aliens with Gatling guns for arms, need a shred of convincing humanity.
Poor Aaron Eckhart—after the death of a major character, the usually solid actor is tasked with delivering one of the longest and most botched monologues in recent memory. It’s even worse than Bill Pullman’s in Independence Day, a sci-fi blockbuster that could be called the mother of Battle: Los Angeles, alongside daddy Black Hawk Down.
Trying to rally his troops while admitting to past mistakes, Eckhart is unable to save face as he stumbles through horrendous dialogue (“It’s like the punchline to some bad joke”) and neglects to acknowledge how disastrously self-aware the speech truly is; his diatribe ends with, “None of that matters now.” He’s not kidding.
Memorable aliens could’ve salvaged the vapid characters and lazy script, but the cool E.T.’s are apparently still holding out for a Cloverfield sequel. The inhuman intruders in Battle: Los Angeles are mostly seen from a distance, a move that implies Liebesman intended for the pic to feel like a ground-level visual experience, as if the ticket-buyer were in the trenches with Eckhart and his squad. When the camera does zoom in for close-ups, they’re quite underwhelming—picture one of The Terminator’s metallic bots moving with the agility of District 9’s aliens, only much less cooler than that sounds.
Pitting insipid characters against unremarkable enemies, the many overlong fight scenes in Battle: Los Angeles generate minimal exhilaration. A casualty-thick clash on a decimated freeway flirts with pulling the film out of its wreckage, a hint of upswing that’s swiftly negated by the neverending battles that follow.
Like many dishonest films that have come before it, Battle: Los Angeles biggest offense may be that it’s guilty of false advertising. The trailers (one of which can be found below) were intense, unsettling, and expertly assembled; it’s totally logical to watch any one of them and anticipate the first alien invasion movie in years that could potentially reinvigorate the genre and work on a paralyzing level. There’s not a morsel of the trailers’ mood to be found in the finished product, however, just a loud bomb detonated with negligible aptitude.