Uh-oh. Earth’s taking a hammering again; meteorites are splashing down in the world’s oceans and out of the surf are striding vaguely humanoid alien things which are set on obliteration. Before long the world’s cities (but especially LA) are being besieged by big hanging post-’District 9’ spaceships and Terminator-style aliens are striding around just generally blowing stuff up and wiping people out. These bad boys, it seems, are a thirsty bunch; they’re draining the Earth’s seas and colonising our world by exterminating us! Here we go again…
If last year’s ‘Skyline’ was a bit too cerebral for you, ‘Battle: Los Angeles’ may be more your cup of carnage. This, it has to be said, is one dumb movie and ticking off the clichés as they roll by might actually be more fun than the movie itself which descends all-too often into tiresome shaky-cam handheld footage of sweaty soldiers clambering around rubble in a constant pall of smoke. After an introductory sequence featuring “our heroes” in a chopper flying over war-torn LA ready to plunge into battle with hostile parched extra-terrestrials, we zip back 24 hours and see gasping US Marine Staff Sergeant Nantz (unfortunate name) struggling to keep up with his rookies on a running exercise. Ah, we get the idea; he’s old and disillusioned and coming up to the end of his career. Sure enough Nantz (square-jawed Aaron Eckhart who I thought had stopped making films like this around the time of ‘The Core’) is soon handing in his notice and idly remembering his experiences in I-raq where some of those in his charge lost their lives. But before Nantz can pack up his old kit bag he’s dragged back into service again because the aliens have arrived and they mean business. Amongst Nantz’s gang this time are the usual bunch of suspects; the soldier about to get married, the brother of one of the men killed in I-raq under Nantz’s previous tour of duty (you're right, he's got one Hell of a grudge), a naïve young marine who’s ready to earn his spurs, a stressed-out soldier eager to prove he’s battle-ready again. The group are charged with penetrating deep into devastated LA to rescue a bunch of rather stupid civilians who have gotten themselves trapped in an abandoned Police station. Doh! Nantz and the Nantz boys (does that sound okay?) are choppered into the city where they quickly come under attack by the rampaging aliens who soon wheel out their big guns (some very big guns) and so begins…. Battle: Los Angeles.
That’s about it for your plot then. For the rest of the film the marines rush about the LA debris shooting and getting shot at, running and ducking for cover and being offed one by one. Unfortunately the characters are generally so sketchy it’s hard to keep up with (much less care) who’s been shot but never mind, ooh, look, there’s another big spaceship! When Michelle Rodriguez turns up playing her patented big butch soldier character all the cliché boxes are ticked and we can relax. Then someone gets the idea of attacking the aliens’ Control and Command centre (a big spaceship parked conveniently in plain sight) and we can all see where this is heading…
Except we probably can’t. Obviously with an eye on a sequel (unlikely) the situation isn’t resolved, the aliens aren’t seen off, a battle’s been won but there’s a war still to fight. Despite the gung-ho nature of the narrative it’s quite surprising to see a film which, like ‘Skyline’, doesn’t necessarily suggest that humanity (ie America) is always going to get its own way and emerge triumphant. ‘Battle: Los Angeles’ clearly takes its lead from real-life war zone film footage with it’s ‘you-are-there’ approach but the weight of its clichés and its perfunctory dialogue and wafer-thin characterisations can only work against it. Visually arresting (if a bit tiresome,) the FX are generally impressive (especially in the long shots of LA being mercilessly pounded) but with the Earth having been visited a little too much recently the movie loses what power it might have had because, at the end of the day, we’ve seen stuff like this a few too many times in the recent past and, despite its focus on a handful of grunts, ‘Battle: Los Angeles’ has nothing new to offer except a vague sense that it’s trying to depict what a situation like this might really be like.
It’s watchable, predictably and intermittently exciting but shafted by its less than sparkling script and one-dimensional characters. ‘Battle: Los Angeles’ isn’t a bad film but it’s just a bit exasperating because we’ve seen it all before and we’ve certainly seen it done better.
EXTRAS: Featurettes 'Behind the Battle'; 'Aliens in LA'; 'Preparing for Battle'; and 'Creating LA'.
'Battle: Los Angeles' is out now on DVD and Blu-ray