When hell bent aliens show up and declare war on the human race, no one is safe. Not even on the golden shores of our own Los Angeles. Battle: Los Angeles is a sci-fi doomsday action romp that shows a slice of a worldwide attack taking place exclusively in the City of Angels. While the action scenes can be exhilarating and chaotic, the flat characters and weak narrative waste the potential the exciting premise creates. The slick effects don’t hold the film up by themselves, and this journey of survival through our own backyard is really no different than any of the other invasion films that have come before.
At its core, Battle: Los Angeles is about one unit of marines doing their best to protect themselves and a few survivors during the beginning of a catastrophic worldwide invasion. Aaron Eckart plays Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz, an aging Marine who is ready to retire after a recent tragedy in the line of duty. Before his signature is done drying on his discharge papers, extraterrestrials begin their assault on humanity. Right away Nantz is put in with a group of eager marines who may not trust him and is forced to answer to a Lieutenant just out of officer training school. Before long they run into a small band of civilians and Air Force Tech Sergeant Elena Santos, portrayed by Michelle Rodriguez. Santos is tough-as-nails and may just have the one piece of information that can tip the scales in the battle for Los Angeles back toward the human side. Little by little the group fights their way to safety, losing friends and comrades along the way, only to realize that they alone are Los Angeles’ last chance for survival.
Battle: Los Angeles attempts to show the audience what a war with such an unimaginable foe looks like firsthand by only focusing on a small group of soldiers caught in the conflict. Regrettably, the film misses the mark here. There are just too many characters for the audience to keep track of. By the time the flashback back-story for each individual Marine is given, they start getting killed off. It becomes difficult to tell which character has gone down and whether the squad just lost its rookie/virgin or PTSD suffering sharpshooter. What could have been a very strong, smaller group of characters ends up feeling like a dozen war-story clichés shooting until they run out of breath. It’s a disappointment because the acting from each of the cast members is strong; it’s just that audiences will have seen these characters all before. It’s hard to feel attached to yet another badass tough chick or another green lieutenant, when all they do is spout out cookie-cutter lines and “oo-rahs!”
Audiences may be disappointed further with what feels like a failure to capitalize on a great premise. Where one might expect our group of marines hustling down Hollywood Boulevard fighting through alien-infested landmarks, the story really just takes place in the coastal city of Santa Monica. Save for a scant few scenes of wreckage around the Santa Monica Pier, the majority of the action has Nantz and his men marching down nondescript streets, past generic neighborhoods, and across a freeway. Despite some exposition about why the aliens would start by attacking the coasts, Battle: Los Angeles really feels like it could have taken place anywhere.
Fortunately, the action itself holds up great. The battle scenes are heart pounding and the aliens are intimidating. Their advanced weapons feel extremely real. Rockets discharge with a satisfying thump and incendiary gunfire burns away at our heroes like a sort of nightmare napalm. The appearance of the actual aliens is terrific as well. They are genuinely creepy, an effective mix of slimy Martians and Terminator robots. They move around with grace and deliberation and react to the battles convincingly. Their drone aircrafts and walking missile tanks also really give the feel of Earth’s own armies being outclassed and the alien threat as something to be legitimately terrified of. Though audiences will probably losing sight of what’s going on in the crazier battles, the action is still the strongest part of the film.
Even with its well-intended ideas and first class effects, Battle: Los Angeles feels like a missed opportunity. The characters are a group of generics that can’t keep up with the action around them and sometimes there’s just too much happening on-screen in general. Angelinos may find enjoyment in seeing their hometown erupt in chaos, but will probably wish they were seeing something bad go down in Dodger Stadium or aliens blowing up Griffith Observatory. While Battle: Los Angeles isn’t terrible, it settles for mediocre and doesn’t accomplish anything that hasn’t already been done by War of the Worlds and Independence Day.