Transformers. Cloverfield. District 9. Skyline. The Invasion. War of the Worlds. The Day the Earth Stood Still – the list goes on and on. Hollywood clearly hasn’t been shy of showcasing fictional alien invasions on the big screen over the last few years, with inevitably varied results. The latest to add to that extensive list is Battle: Los Angeles, perhaps the one of the most relentless and ferocious of the bunch.
The film takes places approximately five months from now when there are sudden reports of meteors landing miles off the coast of major cities around the world. At least meteors are the first assumption, but the government and army soon discover that the earth is actually being invaded by an unknown life-form.
We specifically follow Sergeant Michael Nantz, a veteran Marine who has just handed in his resignation when he gets forced back into action when the invasion strikes. He and the rest of those in his platoon then try to fight back against the invading alien hordes after they have already overtaken several other cities on the West Coast of the United States and elsewhere worldwide. “We’ve lost communications with Tokyo, Rio and New York… We cannot lose Los Angeles,” dauntingly sums up the mission.
Battle: Los Angeles is an uncompromising, intense film. It thrusts us right into the thick of things right from the get-go (it shows us the colossal damage to the city straight away before jumping back to a slightly less hectic time, showing us how things lead up to things kicking off) and pretty much never letting up for the whole two hours. Some might say the film has one note and plays it to death and to be fair that’s not an entirely untrue statement. However, the film does what a lot of alien invasion flicks don’t and sticks to its powerful guns (pardon the pun) without wavering from its objective.
A few months ago an alien invasion film called Skyline hit screens, promising a lot but delivering very little. Battle: Los Angeles delivers on everything that Skyline should have and more. And as preposterous as the whole scenario is, the film plays things with such a straight face that you can’t help but take it all seriously. It admirably portrays the warfare as if the enemy at hand were no different than other, opposing army forces, and delivering an experience that is relentless and, above all, realistic. The way the camera moves, often utilizing rather well the usually irritating “shaky cam” technique, almost makes you feel like just another soldier in the platoon who are simultaneously scared out of their mind but nonetheless doing all they can to battle back against an unknown, very formidable enemy.
Aaron Eckhart, most known to mainstream audiences as Harvey Dent/Two-Face from Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, plays the hero of the film and he fills the role very well. He has that magic combination of the chiselled jaw and general A-lister good looks that Hollywood seems to favour when it comes to leading men but also a grounded, everyman quality that makes his character relatable. He is the classic hero who, despite his skills and bravery, can’t do everything all on his own and so relies on the rest of his team to back him up.
The team consist of all manner of arguably generic soldiers, from the one who has a pregnant wife (you know, because just a wife isn’t enough innocence…) at home to the most inexperienced of the bunch whose nervous trigger figure would put him at a disadvantage in normal warfare, never mind with a band of invading technologically advanced aliens. The camaraderie between the soldiers in the platoon is enjoyable (some wry humour provides some welcome comic relief amongst the chaos), even if a lot of the dialogue about saving the day and protecting their country is cheesy, sometimes even bordering on being eye-rolling.
Supporting Eckhart are the likes of the ever-reliable Michelle Rodriguez, the go-to actress for beautiful but tough female action characters (she played a similar role in James Cameron’s Avatar); Ramon Rodriguez, who makes a young Lieutenant forced into controlling the platoon in his bosses absence entirely believable and empathetic; Bridget Moynahan as one of the civilians the platoon has to escort to safety; and Michael Peña, the consistently solid character actor who here plays a loving father who is just trying to keep his son safe amidst the invasion.
The film promises a mix of spectacle and vigorous realism and it certainly delivers, moving from towering bird’s-eye views of the fire and explosion-ridden Los Angeles to up-close-and personal shots of the warfare, bullets whizzing by all over the place and enough explosions to satisfy any action fan.
With the exception of a few generic scenes involving morality speeches and the soldiers hiding out trying to figure out the next logical move, the film stays on its relentless course for the whole runtime. Just how much of a fan you are of that sort of thing will likely determine how much you enjoy Battle: Los Angeles. I most certainly am a fan of that when it’s done right and thankfully that’s the case here. Hollywood may have overdone the whole alien invasion thing but this is undoubtedly one of the least tired, most enjoyable examples of it.