Consider the moral efficacy of a critical scene from “Battle: Los Angeles.” During a firefight, a small group of US Marines capture an injured alien soldier and with the help of a veterinarian crudely probe the creature with a large knife. As Staff Sgt. Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) rips and tears apart the injured soldier from beyond, it writhes in pain and oozes some kind of fluid. Finally, the Sgt. discovers a kill shot location.
Instead of attempting to communicate with the beast or take him into custody for interrogation, our soldiers are shown torturing and killing it. I’m not sure how to feel about that. But one thing’s for sure, it is a perfect example of what “Battle: Los Angeles” is—a big budgeted action sci-fi flick that shuns intelligence for corny melodrama and thrills. And to be honest, the movie accomplishes its broad goal capably. Don’t expect anything approaching the sophistication that netted “District 9” an Oscar nomination or the fun that made “Independence Day” a huge box office draw.
The story told in “Battle: Los Angeles” is summed up in its 3 minute trailer. And the depth of the narrative is no deeper than that puddle. One day a meteor shower rains down on the coast lines of the world. But instead of these meteors crashing at a high speed, they slow down as they enter our atmosphere. This is concerning so the military mobilizes. Shortly after touchdown, an alien invasion commences. We’re told that this tactic is a textbook colonization. However, I can’t imagine that an alien species that is capable of intergalactic travel would just send in the ground troops. There is some convoluted nonsense about the aliens setting up communication control stations, but not enough is revealed for us to give any of it much credibility.
We learn through newscasts that the aliens are after our water. But they choose to invade our land. Surprisingly, the oceans of the world begin to recede. My first thought is that since our planet is 70 percent water, and that’s what the aliens want, why care about the land? Wouldn’t it make more sense to touchdown somewhere out in the ocean and fuel up on that water first? No matter, “Battle: Los Angeles” is told exclusively from the perspective of a small group of Marines who enter the fray of battle in the title city. And as far as a corny war movie, it works efficiently.
“The Dark Knight’s” Aaron Eckhart maintains a stern upper lip and has to spout a number of cheesy lines without any of the humor that worked so well coming out of Will Smith’s mouth in the similar and superior “Independence Day.” And that’s the problem the “Battle,” it’s a movie that wants to take from “Independence Day” and “District 9” and draw in both audiences. While it is an admirable goal, unfortunately, I can’t recommend it to either of those viewing demographics. “District 9” fans will find “Battle” dim-witted, and “Independence” fans will find it corny and lacking in fun.
But does “Battle” work as a sci-fi action flick? The gritty visual scope is taken right from the much smaller budgeted “District 9.” In a few short hours of battle, the city of LA looks like Baghdad. And much of the action is captured using handheld close-ups that, at times, are a little nauseating. The lightly bleached color pallete wants to convey authenticity and the enormous sets (many likely computer generated composites) are very good. The $100 million budget is in full force, but think about how much more they were able to achieve with the $30 million spent on “District 9?” Or even how decent things looked on the $10 million “Skyline?” Or think about the reported $500 thousand expended on last year’s romantic “Monsters?” If only the story of “Battle: Los Angeles” had lived up to its visuals.
But I can’t shake the feeling I had while watching Aaron Eckhart playing a good-guy battle weary Marine crudely dissecting that alien grunt. “Battle: Los Angeles” looks good but the story lacks soul.