Bore of the worlds
Battle: Los Angeles is an angry alien invasion movie about as interesting as a session of Battleship between two pensive eighth graders playing the game for the first time at a slumber party. Featuring an alien species that looks like giant, ancient carpenter ants and a lead performance hammier than a western Kentucky hog farm, the movie is nothing more than a big cinematic cheat.
The film follows a group of marines as they face a mounting ground-and-air invasion from unknown, and largely unseen, aliens. Director Jonathan Liebesman uses the patented shaky camera trick, making it hard to get a bead on what exactly is attacking the marines.
Sure, this creates a sense of dread early on, but when we finally see the beasties making life hard for L.A. residents, they are some of the most undistinguished, boring aliens Hollywood has offered up since Cocoon: The Return.
Chief among the marines is Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz, played by Aaron Eckhart. Nantz is recently returned from a tour of duty where men died under his command, and he figures his combat days are over. When the aliens start traipsing down Hollywood Boulevard, his commander tells him he’s out of retirement. He’s put in a new platoon where a much younger man is in charge. This, of course, leads to many moments when the younger guy semi-panics and the experienced guy talks sense into him.
The occasional long shot tells us that the movie is, in fact, taking place in L.A., but you wouldn’t know that from most of the locales. The marines fight the battles in smoke filled streets, abandoned police stations and suburban backyards. They might as well be in Wichita.
And, yes, for those of you wondering, the ragtag group of soldiers does include Michelle Rodriguez. You can’t have a militaristic adventure these days without Rodriguez somewhere in the crew doing that cute little smirk face.
So, why are the aliens invading us? It seems they want our water. You see, they can master technology to annihilate planets via massive flying vehicles and super-powered weaponry, but it seems they haven’t figured out how to combine oxygen and hydrogen to make that pesky water stuff.
When the film does manage a few sustainable moments of dread or exciting action, it’s usually punctuated by dialogue so bad the stench will burn your nose hairs. The normally reliable Eckhart is saddled with speeches so terrible it will make you question whether the guy can really act at all. You have to keep reminding yourself that this guy was Two-Face, he can act, and the script by Christopher Bertolini is probably to blame.
Liebesman is clearly going for the “documentary feel” alien invasion movie, basically making the viewer an observer along for the ride with the marines. This whole technique draws comparison to the far superior Cloverfield, which mixed claustrophobic scares with cool partial views of a giant, interesting-looking invading monster. And, yes, Cloverfield had the shaky cam, too.
While I’m OK with a movie or two using shaky cam, Liebesman seems to use the technique to mask the fact that his movie just doesn’t look all that good, and his ability to put a comprehensible action set-piece together is suspect.
Also, I’m sick and tired of alien invasion movies that follow the same template of “Man these things are indestructible and we are going to lose!” eventually drifting into “Oh, wait, maybe these things aren’t that unbeatable after all!” mode. Again, Cloverfield was superior here in that it left the results of the invasion open-ended, with the likelihood that the planet was doomed. It had balls.
I accepted our ability to overtake the aliens in War of the Worlds and even Independence Day, but this time out, that premise has grown wearisome. I remain convinced that an invading alien species would reduce us to dog meat if they had violent lasers and ships bigger than Texas. I don’t know, I’m just funny that way.