Film review: Battle: Los Angeles

posted at 8:20 am on March 12, 2011 by Ed Morrissey

Last night, a friend of mine and I decided to see Battle: Los Angeles on its opening day, mainly for some mindless special-effects fun.  Before the movie started, we had some fun playing The Pitch Game, where (as my friend explained) one tries to figure out what the one-sentence pitch for the film must have been to the studio by combining two well-known movies to explain it.  For Battle: Los Angeles, the answer to the game was easy.  It’s basically Black Hawk Down meets Independence Day.

Frankly, we both expected to laugh through the film.  Instead, it turned out to be a decent, engrossing movie, albeit with a few well-worn plot points.  Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) has decided to retire from the Marine Corps after a controversial tour in either Iraq or Afghanistan that left some of his men dead.  Unfortunately, fate intervenes in the form of an alien invasion, and Nantz has to suit up for combat again, leading a group of men familiar with his record.  His team tries to rescue civilians trapped behind enemy lines and wind up cut off.  Will Nantz get them to safety, and will he earn the respect of his team?

Aaron Eckhart carries the movie with a more nuanced and gritty performance than we probably have a right to expect.  His commanding officer, a green lieutenant, is played well by Ramon Rodriguez, whose character blessedly never falls into the 90-day-blunder cliche.  Michael Pena gives a good performance as a civilian rescued by Nantz and his team, as does Bridget Moynahan, but the movie doesn’t really focus much on her character.  Michelle Rodriguez plays her usual tough-girl role, almost the same as she did in Avatar.  The rest of the cast does well in a good ensemble in the old war-movie mold, but the show is mostly Eckhart’s to carry.

Battle: Los Angeles makes some interesting choices in both storytelling and in presentation.  First, it doesn’t try to tell the back story of the aliens.  The audience gets flashes of analysis only from occasional glimpses of TV news shows, but only in the most literal sense possible do we ever get to see what makes the aliens tick.  Some may have a problem with that, but it adds to the same sense of dislocation that the characters feel in the film.  The entire film is shot in the rapid-cut, pseudo-documentary style that is completely annoying early in the film when it makes no sense, but adds to the realism when the war breaks out.  The plot has its holes and weak points towards the end, but they don’t add up enough to lose interest in the film.

In the end, though, the film isn’t about aliens or explosions, but about the characters as they struggle to survive and learn to trust each other.  That makes it better than expected, actually quite a bit better, and more than just a popcorn movie.  It doesn’t reach the level of Black Hawk Down, of course, or even Tears of the Sun, but it’s well worth watching.

Note: The film is graphically violent, with surprisingly low levels of objectionable language.  That’s probably why it gets a PG-13 rating, again proving my point that the MPAA system is almost entirely useless.

Update: One commenter links to a review that shows a higher bad-word count than I recall.  It’s probably accurate; the language was appropriate for the setting, which is likely why I didn’t really notice it — and speaks even more to the uselessness of the MPAA rating system.

I didn’t mention this, but since commenters have begun debating it, I should mention that the film treats the military very well.  There is no “why should we be fighting” subtext (which, given the circumstances of the film, makes perfect sense anyway).  Those expecting a crypto-pacifist message from Battle: Los Angeles will find themselves either very disappointed or pleasantly surprised.


Related Posts:

Breaking on Hot Air

Blowback

Note from Hot Air management: This section is for comments from Hot Air's community of registered readers. Please don't assume that Hot Air management agrees with or otherwise endorses any particular comment just because we let it stand. A reminder: Anyone who fails to comply with our terms of use may lose their posting privilege.

Trackbacks/Pings

Trackback URL

Comments

Comment pages: 1 2

quikstrike98 on March 12, 2011 at 12:50 PM

Vince on March 12, 2011 at 1:32 PM

Why re those “aliens” screaming “ALLAHU AHKBAH!”

???

Roy Rogers on March 12, 2011 at 2:24 PM

I loved the movie. It reminded me of the old Hollywood, where American forces were heroes and the bad guys were evil and inhuman. In fact, in this picture, they really were. It would have been politically incorrect to have a communist invasion, ala Red Dawn, because these days, Hollywood would make America to blame for it. But these aliens (so illegal, the little green men don’t have little green cards) are safe to slaughter without some liberal suggesting they’re victims of American racism. I agree that Eckhard was superb and I’m even gratified that they the director didn’t try to insert a romance between he and Moynihan. The violence was, it seemed, realistic, and reminded me of “Saving Private Ryan” in its depiction. All in all, a great movie if you like war pictures.

NNtrancer on March 12, 2011 at 2:57 PM

Still haven’t seen Avatar yet.

BigAlSouth on March 12, 2011 at 9:04 AM

Ditto. I get many odd looks from family and friends when I refuse to even view their DVD/Blu-ray copies…my wife (being the awesome missus that she is) is quick to inform them that I refuse to view anything from the idiot producer of that ‘movie’.

I’ll go see this movie ASAP. Other than the movies that the kids want to see, cartoons mostly, I will NOT pay to see a Hollyweird movie unless Clint Eastwood directed it or Frank Miller wrote it (exceptions with Gary Sinese or a recommendation like this one being given by those here are exceptions to the rule). Anti-American/military is never ‘cool’ and any moron that facilitates a film with that theme should be ostracized by our society.

Geministorm on March 12, 2011 at 3:20 PM

All in all, a great movie if you like war pictures.

NNtrancer on March 12, 2011 at 2:57 PM

Great review! Thanks!

John the Libertarian on March 12, 2011 at 3:35 PM

No images of survivors pushing grocery carts full of loot down destroyed and burning streets?

What kind of Democrat controlled city is that supposed to be?

Roy Rogers on March 12, 2011 at 3:49 PM

Why re those “aliens” screaming “ALLAHU AHKBAH!”

???

Roy Rogers on March 12, 2011 at 2:24 PM

Simple. Because they are all “lone wolf”, fanatics that have no ties to terrorism and are acting alone.

TugboatPhil on March 12, 2011 at 3:53 PM

If you saw “Skyline”, you probably thought you saw the trailor to this movie. “Skyline” was terrible. The makers of “Battle: Los Angeles” went to the company that made “Skyline” to do their special effects and that company apparently decided to do their own low-budget version of the movie since they were doing the special effects anyway. So now the makers of “Battle: Los Angeles” are suing them. This movie is far superior.

NNtrancer on March 12, 2011 at 4:23 PM

Reality check: the taxpayers feed, clothe, train and pay US Marines for the sole object of killing, maiming, disemboweling, decapitating, and otherwise destroying the bodies of fellow human beings. THAT is obscene.
quikstrike98 on March 12, 2011 at 12:50 PM

Nothing on earth looks, or smells, better than a dead enemy.

logis on March 12, 2011 at 4:33 PM

Nothing on earth looks, or smells, better than a dead enemy.

Spoken like a member of the Combat Arms. ;)

And you folks who get weepy over 4 letter words think that people with that attitude gives a crap about your sensibilities? ;)

quikstrike98 on March 12, 2011 at 4:45 PM

Geministorm on March 12, 2011 at 3:20 PM

I caught it on HBO, I never planned to rent the movie either but since it was alread on TV I cheked it out. I have a nice TV, but the special effects looked too much like a Pixar flick. The story and characters are incredibly shallow and one dimensional and the movie is just plain boring. The preaching is as bad as you’ve heard, but there isn’t even a good movie to back it up. In other words, you aren’t missing anything in not seeing Avatar, it is easily his worst film. District 9 was much better.

I am very happy to hear Battlefield: LA is not only a decent film, but character driven. That is how you make a good film, focus on the characters (having awesome actors like Aaron Eckhart doesn’t hurt either). Not having any P.C. moral relativism thrown in makes it all the better and I think I’ll check it out now. Skyline was supposed to be absolutely dreadful, I’ve been waiting for a good alien invasion film. V on ABC is pretty good too.

Daemonocracy on March 12, 2011 at 5:01 PM

Reality check: the taxpayers feed, clothe, train and pay US Marines for the sole object of killing, maiming, disemboweling, decapitating, and otherwise destroying the bodies of fellow human beings. THAT is obscene. And you worry about them saying “f*ck”???!!!

quikstrike98 on March 12, 2011 at 12:50 PM

You forget what those individuals, before you were successful in killing, maiming disemboweling, or decapitating them, were trying to do to you and yours in the moments before their epiphany on the way to the virgins.

unclesmrgol on March 12, 2011 at 5:35 PM

You forget what those individuals, before you were successful in killing, maiming disemboweling, or decapitating them, were trying to do to you and yours in the moments before their epiphany on the way to the virgins.

Hardly. I totally recognize the need for fighting, and for rough men standing ready in the night to do harm to our enemies. I was in Marine Corps Combat Arms myself, 0313 LAV Crewman, and proud to have served. But warfare entails far more obscenity than a simple word that makes the sheltered feel “oogy”. It’s all just laughable.

quikstrike98 on March 12, 2011 at 5:50 PM

If you saw “Skyline”, you probably thought you saw the trailor to this movie. “Skyline” was terrible. The makers of “Battle: Los Angeles” went to the company that made “Skyline” to do their special effects and that company apparently decided to do their own low-budget version of the movie since they were doing the special effects anyway. So now the makers of “Battle: Los Angeles” are suing them. This movie is far superior.

NNtrancer on March 12, 2011 at 4:23 PM

Skyline was horrible. Possibly the worse movie I ever saw. By the end I wanted the lead characters to all die.
Just came back from Battle: Los Angeles. Freaking fantastic! Excellent acting, great effects, good plot and just a all around great movie!

JellyToast on March 12, 2011 at 6:47 PM

No images of survivors pushing grocery carts full of loot down destroyed and burning streets?

What kind of Democrat controlled city is that supposed to be?

Roy Rogers on March 12, 2011 at 3:49 PM

The type that was filmed in Shreveport. Amazing, isn’t it, that they filmed a movie about LA in….a completely different state. You don’t think the lower taxes and less unionization had anything to do with it, do you?

Of course, it would probably have been easier to film all the destruction in Detroit.

And, yeah, I saw it yesterday, too, and had the same thoughts about the great way the Marines are treated by the film makers, as I said in my review.

William Teach on March 12, 2011 at 6:53 PM

Semper Fi quikstrike98

0369 Alpha 1/1

Roy Rogers on March 12, 2011 at 7:33 PM

Have to agree – just got back from watching it and Battle: LA was pretty damn good. Pro-military, really freakin realistic fighting, and good acting. Definitely recommend

specialkayel on March 12, 2011 at 7:42 PM

I thought the movie was pretty decent. If only Hollywood would make more films like this.

I’d give the film a C+ or a B-.

I’m not a military person at all but some of the fighting scenes did not appear realistic to me. For example, would a bunch of marines really hot wire a bus and place the civilians in the bus and drive it around back to the destination?

It seems to me that in real life, that bus would have been a obvious target for the enemy to hit, especially when they see marines in it.

Conservative Samizdat on March 12, 2011 at 8:37 PM

Reality check: the taxpayers feed, clothe, train and pay US Marines for the sole object of killing, maiming, disemboweling, decapitating, and otherwise destroying the bodies of fellow human beings. THAT is obscene.
quikstrike98 on March 12, 2011 at 12:50 PM

Don’t like it? Vote for SERIOUS people so it won’t come to that.

wkgdyw on March 12, 2011 at 9:38 PM

Don’t like it? Vote for SERIOUS people so it won’t come to that.

wkgdyw on March 12, 2011 at 9:38 PM

I will wait for a liberal human shield to save my lilly white azz.

NOT!

Roy Rogers on March 12, 2011 at 9:47 PM

One f-word. About 35 s-words. Twenty or so uses of “h‑‑‑.” Over a dozen each of “d‑‑n” and “a‑‑.” A handful each of “b‑‑ch” and “b‑‑tard.” God’s and Jesus’ names together are misused well over 20 times. (God’s is combined with “d‑‑n” on at least a dozen occasions.)
itsnotaboutme on March 12, 2011 at 8:24 AM

Wow!

That describes the Avg. 3 min conversation of the Avg. Sailor in the USN!

DSchoen on March 12, 2011 at 10:19 PM

Aaron Eckart has called this film a “love letter to the Marine Corps”. Indeed it is. I was amped after seeing it. The crowd here in Los Angeles cheered at the end of the movie. I haven’t heard that in a long time.

MikeZero on March 12, 2011 at 10:39 PM

From the trailers, I was expecting some kind of “The aliens represent the colonists and WE are the native americans” since the line from the trailer says “When you invade a place for it’s resources, you wipe out the indigenous population. Right now, we’re being colonized.” I always thought that was a rather specific choice of words. Was there any of that kind of subtext, Ed? (or, anyone who’s seen it?)

Viewtifulgare on March 12, 2011 at 10:42 PM

Is there a gay Marine? Alien?
Akzed on March 12, 2011 at 10:55 AM

If there is He/She can make complete sentence using only the “F” word… as well

BTW, the same is true for the Navy

DSchoen on March 12, 2011 at 11:20 PM

There are no theaters near my home. I’ll wait til it comes on PPV on the satellite, if the aliens don’t get here first.

Odd how the film “2012″ and what we’re seeing from Japan aren’t all that different.

flataffect on March 12, 2011 at 11:40 PM

Note: The film is graphically violent, with surprisingly low levels of objectionable language. That’s probably why it gets a PG-13 rating, again proving my point that the MPAA system is almost entirely useless.

So… they went WWE on it?

You know, censoring words like ‘ass’ but showing guys getting beaten over the head with steel chairs?

Reaps on March 13, 2011 at 8:16 AM

Was there any of that kind of subtext, Ed? (or, anyone who’s seen it?)

Viewtifulgare on March 12, 2011 at 10:42 PM

No, nothing like that. The line you quote is the only real mention of colonization.

Ed Morrissey on March 13, 2011 at 10:39 AM

the moviegoers agree

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Alien invasion flick “Battle: Los Angeles” waged a successful campaign for North American movie supremacy over the weekend, collecting $36 million in a march to the No. 1 spot on box office charts.

http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2011/03/13/arts/entertainment-us-boxoffice.html?_r=1&hp

rob verdi on March 13, 2011 at 12:40 PM

I’m glad to see this movie is getting great word-of-mouth reviews after getting critically panned. Rotten Tomatoes only has this at 33%, but this was one of the best movies I’ve seen in a while. Very pro-military, good special effects, and immersive cinematography. Aaron Eckhart did a fantastic job. I highly recommend it.

Wellsy on March 13, 2011 at 6:00 PM

Don’t like it? Vote for SERIOUS people so it won’t come to that.

Why do so many comments on this thread make me roll my eyes? As a “SERIOUS” student of history, I recognize that armed conflict is a part of the human condition. It’s one of the reasons I volunteered to serve my country as a trigger-puller. I’m just pointing out that, given what we expect our Marines to do, someone saying “The Marines ought to stop cussing,” is utterly risible.

quikstrike98 on March 13, 2011 at 9:29 PM

Saw it today, it was AWESOME!

Tony737 on March 13, 2011 at 10:34 PM

Comment pages: 1 2