The poor city of Los Angeles just can’t seem to cop a break. At least since the 1950s, when the city was destroyed in the War of the Worlds, the City of Angels has faced one disaster after another. Although it manages to quickly rebuild, it has been perpetually toppled by earthquakes (Earthquake, Double Dragon, 10:5 Apocalypse, 2012), global warming (The Day After Tomorrow), nuclear bombs (Terminator 2), zombie apocalypse (Zombieland) and believe it or not, a volcano (Volcano). At one point, the whole city snapped off and became an island of the damned (Escape from L.A.). All these disasters in one place have naturally attracted visitors from other planets, seeing the susceptible but strangely resilient city as a place to engage in target practice. Perhaps the War of the Worlds Martians just got the word out. Many lives were lost on Independence Day, and again last year during the Skyline incident. Now that the fragile history is clear, it is time for the Battle: Los Angeles to commence.
Still recovering from the loss of several men in his last mission, US Marine Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart, Rabbit Hole) plans to retire. When some mysterious objects fall from the sky, he is asked to accompany new Lieutenant William Martinez (Ramón Rodríguez, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen) on a mission to evacuate civilians from a police station in downtown L.A. It soon becomes apparent that the world is in the midst of an alien invasion, and the nasties show no signs of wanting to talk about it over a nice cup of tea. Eventually joined by Michelle Rodriguez, Machete), the ragtag group must band together to find out a way to stop these alien buggers once and for all.
There is a point when playing any video game, for that is the format that Battle: Los Angeles is most analogous to, when you just want the cut scene to stop so you can start doing your own running and gunning. No such point ever comes in this tedious, bloated and completely shallow film. There is not so much a narrative as one long action sequence, one that shows no signs of stopping throughout much of its running time. The soundtrack is similarly constant, with the perpetual explosions and painful emotion-directing score (from Brian Tyler) seemingly intent on drowning out any pleas for mercy from the audience. Despite the film opening with a series of vignettes dedicated to each of the main characters, complete with title card that remind us they all have names, there is nothing subsequent to this that gives any indication as to why we should invest any further time in caring about these carbon copies of other people’s heroes. From the working marine weeks away from retirement to the father just trying to look out for his son, everybody here has been lifted off the shelf without tailoring. They don’t so much engage in dialogue as exchange short bursts of cliché. When that fails, there is always military speak to fall back on, and that doesn’t really have to make sense.
Director Jonathan Liebesman is no stranger to derivation, having previously helmed Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (itself a prequel to the 2003 remake). No spoilers are intended by this statement, but the ending has been lifted wholesale from the conclusion to 1996’s Independence Day. Perhaps scriptwriter Christopher Bertolini (The General’s Daughter) is relying on the age of the demographic or short memories to obscure this little factoid. Yet even unoriginal movies can be fun, but the Battle: Los Angeles crew seem to have sapped all the good bits out of those sources of inspiration and left us with a whole mess of action, at some points being Black Hawk Down and at others borrowing from the Assault on Precinct 13 genre. Previous efforts following the formula have often seen a diverse group of people pulling together in times of crisis (the scientist, the stoner, the candlestick maker), while here we are only left with a single group of marines to save the day. It’s the cinematic equivalent of watching somebody else play soldier, while being asked to sit on the sidelines and observe.
Battle: Los Angeles was released on 17 March 2011 in Australia by Sony Pictures Entertainment.