Review | Battle: Los Angeles

Battle: Los Angeles starts off totally strong. It’s clear that the brown stuff has hit the fan and we’re all in trouble. A shaky handheld camera captures scenes of carnage. Earth has been invaded and we’re pretty much boned.

Then we cut to 24 hours earlier, and everything goes to hell.

For the next 20 or so minutes of Jonathan Liebesman’s alien-invasion flick the action winks out while a series of cardboard character cutouts is established, complete with text  feeding us names and ranks. With the exception of Ne-Yo’s unmistakable glasses and Aaron Eckhart’s square jaw, they are an unremarkable bunch, a battalion of jarheads who will largely end up as cannon fodder. The promise of the film’s opening moments quickly fades as you are bludgeoned into submission by the hammer of exposition.

When the action eventually does pick up, it comes to a slow boil as our brave little Marines tromp through a decimated Santa Monica while the invaders pop up here and there as formidable, shadowy foes. Some momentum finally. Right?

No. For every action in Battle: Los Angeles there is an equal and opposite exposition, a momentum-killing scene that brings us back to sour memories of that first act. “Oh, yes, I remember,” you think. “There is some lousy dialogue going on here. Stop talking and start shooting!” And then it’s back, with all of the promise it showed before. You hope against hope that the action won’t shift again to sorry attempts at character development, but of course it does, and you feel dumber for it.

This is the rhythm Battle: Los Angeles falls into, and it is ultimately what defeats it. Earth’s forces may emerge victorious in a last-second stroke that is worthy of Independence Day, but Emmerich’s film told a much better story which, for all of its ridiculousness, at least featured characters you could develop some feeling for.

Instead you’re left with a group of terrified, stone-faced Marines. The alien threat is the fear they are acting to, but deep down the terror is almost certainly rooted in each actor’s knowledge that there are still more momentum-killing lines to be recited. We’d feel for them, too, if we weren’t so focused on keeping down the rage of spending $10 or more on this mess. Or maybe it’s the lunch we’re trying to keep down, as the constantly shaky handheld camera wavers to and fro.

A handheld camera can be a powerful tool for establishing perspective, especially in wartime flicks such as this one. An over-the-shoulder perspective can do wonders for building tension, as you are effectively limiting the audience’s field of view to what the character can see and nothing more. In Battle: Los Angeles, the shaky cam functions more like a freight train, barreling ahead without stopping until it reaches its end point. Oddly, the shake is at its worst at the beginning of the film, in its quietest moments. But even later on, when the camera mellows out, the nauseating bumps and hitches never truly go away.

What makes all of this so unfortunate is that Liebesman actually stages some damn fine action sequences. The camera is used so artlessly that you never feel like you are truly immersed, but there is definitely an “on the ground” quality to the way the combat actions are captured. There are easy comparisons to draw with video game shooters, though the unfolding events fall closer in feeling to cutscenes than actual gameplay. You’re watching the action unfold, but you’re never taking part in it.

Battle: Los Angeles is a disappointment, practically top to bottom. Sony engineered a brilliant marketing campaign for this movie, raising the hype to inconceivable levels, and props to the team behind it. Unfortunately, the marketing worked too well. At base, this is a lousy movie and no amount of viral campaigning or Internet hype-building is going to fix that.

Battle: Los Angeles opens today nationwide.

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Comments

  • Ziza9

    I still can’t wait to see it. Got my tix already. I’m not looking for it to make cinematic history or be filled with Oscar worthy performances. Living in LA now this should be fun.

  • Packagemanups

    So it seems that it is Skyline with better actors.

  • http://twitter.com/ccsharumun C.C. Sharumun

    I just saw the movie, and I was quite impressed. I didn’t think the exposition was that bad, and I actually liked the build-up from normal-day to all-hell-breaks-loose. I fail to see how the dialogue-action balance “killed the momentum” at all. I was hooked the whole time, and appreciated the breathers.

    I agree to some extent about the camera, though. A clearer perspective to give us the lay of the land and who was getting hit would have been nice.

  • The Anti-Bieber!

    I’m on wait and see on this one. I’ll wait to see what others say about it and see it later on in the theater if not just wait for dvd.

  • Lion_okitkat

    I might wait on this, saw a short clip on some talk show and wasn’t impressed, but we’ll see.

  • Kurt

    Don’t believe every newspaper or “professional” movie critic out there!!! I just saw BLA and was pretty much expecting a SCYFY Channel B-movie on the level of Skyline but I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised! These critics are all idiots, they all seem to follow Roger Ebert’s lead, and if he doesn’t like they don’t like it either as if his opinion really means anything…please! Go see it! If you like this genre at all, you owe to yourself to at least go check it out!!!

  • The Anti-Bieber!

    Ebert also gave Kick-Ass a scathing review and I loved that one. Before and after that, I’ve never really given his reviews much credence anyhow.

  • Guydc3

    Saw it last night and loved it. It felt intense and real. Living in LA now it was fun seeing them take actual street routes and reference real locations as the unit progressed through the chaos. Kick-butt flick. I never let critics dictate what I will or won’t see, good review or bad.

  • Travis

    Just saw it. Loved it. I totally disagree with this reviewer.

    Thought it was well done and it was better than skyline but I liked that one too.

  • JMC

    “This is the rhythm Battle: Los Angeles falls into, and it is ultimately what defeats it. Earth’s forces may emerge victorious in a last-second stroke that is worthy of Independence Day”

    Eventhough the ending of many of these action flicks are obvious, it’s still a good idea NOT to give away the ending in your review!

  • CJ3

    I saw the movie yesterday and absolutely loved it from beginning to end. I disagree with the reviewer on every level, it was a poor review, sorry. It was more like a rant because there was not enough explosions and gun shots to keep them on the edge of their seat. All movies have to have story arcs, maybe you missed that?

    Anyway if you liked independence day, aliens, district 9 etc, then you will enjoy this movie. Though there are similarities to the Independence Day movie, it was way better on every level and I am not the only person saying that. Many people I talked to after the movie was over all said there agree there were similarities, but it was much better.

    The Good: Action gritty feeling that you are there and the natural character fear against unknown enemies and the authentic use of military.

    The Bad: The laughable scientists who tried to explain why the aliens were invading, all the while sitting in pretty little news rooms.

    The Ugly: The insides of the aliens!

    Great fun movie, I would see it again in theaters with friends who have not yet.