Just when you thought March wasn’t already overstuffed with three, count ‘em, three alien films, sadly we have to wait until the end of the month for the good one. Although to be fair, there’s at least an hours worth of good accounted for here. While fairing half better than this week’s other entry, the way more family oriented but decidedly worse and just as boring Mars Needs Moms, we have to hold out until next Friday when we finally get the film worthy of our attention with Paul. So alas, here we are with Earth duking it out Michael Bay style in Battle: Los Angeles.
Director Jonathan Liebesman has come a long way from his first foray into motion picture filmmaking. His debut film, Darkness Falls, was an intrepid mess from start to finish. His follow-up to that dreck happened to be a sequel that was an even bigger mess than the original remake – The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning. Liebesman seems to have decided that instead of coming up with his own style of filming, he’s continuing his trend of zoom-in zoom-out shaky cam madness (courtesy of cinematographer Lukas Ettlin) and Michael Bay inspired editing to cover up his own directorial flaws. Granted, the screenplay from sophomore scribe Christopher Bertolini doesn’t help in any of this either.
In Battle: Los Angeles we find a laundry list of soldiers all surrounding Camp Pendleton in California. The main focus is on Staff Sgt. Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) who appears to be retiring from duty to be a boot camp drill sergeant. Meanwhile there are literally title cards introducing every single other character in the outfit as if Liebesman and Bertolini think the audience is too stupid to follow along. Note: when you start off with that many characters to begin with, why bother with introductions at all when we already know that most of them are going to be killed off very soon anyway?
Pressing forward, “meteors” have been crash landing along the coasts of eight major world cities and eventually figures who look like a cross between the aliens from Independence Day and the pod from Spielberg’s War of the Worlds break out their District 9-leftover special effects weapons of mass destruction to destroy the human race in order to gain control of Earth’s water. Now Nantz and his platoon of merry men are stuck on the streets holing themselves up in defense of attack after attack… after attack… Yes, the film is nonstop “action” and special effects “wizardry” ad nauseam. It’s all very exhausting and headache inducing and I’m saying this about a film that was tailor made for my tastes.
The film ultimately stops dead in its tracks at one point. Everyone gets bunkered just long enough for Nantz and local veterinarian/civilian Michelle (Bridget Moynahan) to crack open one of the aliens to figure out how to kill them meanwhile the action must not stop for even that as their hideout is penetrated by said aliens and only rocket launchers down the hallway can fend them off. It’s also around this point when the film starts to feel way too much like the sci-fi edition of Lord of the Rings where we’re treated to an endless barrage of false endings. Just when you think the film is over, and believe me, it feels like you’ve already sat through an entire film by this point, there’s still 40 minutes to go.
Speaking of false endings, there’s lots of talk about bombs being dropped with the almighty countdown scenario in tow that obviously never comes. And we all know that when a helicopter takes off chock full of supporting characters with no more room for even the children Nantz has picked up along the way, we know what’s coming. BOOM! Yup, you guessed it, another explosion. It almost feels like the production was coming in under budget and they literally just started placing as many objects in front of the camera to blow up as they could find.
While Battle: Los Angeles starts out as mindless fun, in the end it completely fails to be as epic as it thinks it is and quickly takes a huge swan dive into dumb by taking itself so seriously. While all those things can be great when they gel together (of course I’m speaking of big dumb fun here), it never happens. All we get is one of the loudest and busiest alien invasion films in years and not in a good way. It even so much as sets itself up for a sequel in the final scene instead of playing open ended. So now, which of the big tent pole alien films deserve your attention this weekend? Neither. It’s all just another case of pick your poison.
Photos courtesy Columbia Pictures