Director: Jonathan Liebesman
Starring: Aaron Eckhart, Bridget Moynahan, Michael Peña, Michelle Rodriguez
The destruction of Earth by hostile aliens has been a mainstay of Hollywood since the 1950s. From the White House to the Pyramids, few of the world's landmarks have been safe from fictional annihilation. But with a new decade comes a new type of alien movie, where the camera takes the view point of a few terrified survivors as contemporary cities are brought to their knees. The latest is Battle: Los Angeles, from the horror director Jonathan Liebesman (who helmed the Michael Bay-produced The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning). Set in the present day, the film depicts an invasion of Earth by aliens looking to colonise the planet for its resources. A systematic attack takes place on all the Earth's most populous areas, leaving Los Angeles as the final city standing. It is up to what is left of the human military to make a stand and try to save mankind. We follow war-weary Marine Sergeant Michael Nantz (Eckhart), leading a platoon of young soldiers in combat. Also in his care is Michele (Moynahan), a civilian caught in the crossfire.
It is clear from the beginning that this project has come about in an attempt to make a Hollywood version of the 2009 hit District 9: the director Leibesman fills the screen with documentary-style shots and blurry glimpses of worn, imposing mother ships. What is painfully obvious, however, is that a "safe" studio director has been brought in to deliver a great deal of spectacle but no individuality. The look is very kinetic - in some of the harsher scenes bullets, explosions and screams are thrown at you, and in this sense it is more like a war epic instead of a traditionally shot studio film.
Liebesman is known for a gritty style that he has carried through to this project, inspired by news footage of troops in modern warfare situations, and no doubt films such as Ridley Scott's Black Hawk Down. The spacecraft and alien effects are stuck somewhere between a huge summer blockbuster and an edgy micro-budget piece, and although at times impressive, feel like an amalgam of more famous predecessors. Sadly, the style is not followed by substance, and the unimaginable peril the principal characters are cast into is rendered irrelevant by the lack of any form of character development beyond the most clichéd archetypes. It would have been a passable exercise 15 years ago when the CGI effects would have carried it through, but the genre has moved on.
Eckhart is the "go-to guy" for a strong supporting role, but has always struggled to make it as a mainstream lead. Here he is reliable, but looks restricted by an incredibly clichéd role as the marine brought back from retirement by the invasion. This poorly constructed arc is not helped by his military colleagues, a troupe of textbook grunts. In among them is Rodriguez, again playing a tough-girl role, and again not hugely memorable. Moynahan also rallies against the torrent of bad dialogue as the woman being rescued by Nantz. She and Eckhart do their best, although they are not given a lot to do apart from inject a semblance of risk into the story.
Battle: Los Angeles turns out to be a big, loud and ultimately unfulfilling experience. As Clash of The Titans (which, in fact, has Liebesman directing its sequel) proved, clever visual ideas cannot mask a lack of originality, and while the "view from the ground" works for a while, the terrible script and undercooked story lets down an idea and cast that could have been interesting. Not as bad as the other recent invasion movie Skyline, but still nothing to be excited about. As the credits roll, the prevailing feeling you are left with is you've seen this story elsewhere, but better.
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