A couple of years ago, there was a little movie called District 9, with a significantly bigger movie called Avatar released a few months later. Both of these movies were notable in how they used aliens as allegory for xenophobia and class segregation. Neither of them could really be called “alien invasion” movies, since aliens in the former picture were trying to live in harmony with mankind, and in the latter film, the invading aliens were us. Still, ever since both of these films picked up a surprising amount of box-office money and Oscar recognition, it seems like there’s a new wave of alien invasion movies coming our way.
Discounting the upcoming Paul — which features a friendly alien — we’ve still got Cowboys and Aliens coming up this summer, in addition to Super 8 and a prequel to John Carpenter’s The Thing. A third sequel to Men in Black is currently in production (kinda sorta) and scheduled for release in 2012. DC (The Green Lantern) and Marvel (The Avengers) are both releasing films that are either rumored or confirmed to feature extra-terrestrial threats. Even the board game “Battleship” has been turned into an alien invasion film, set to debut in 2012.
However, considering that the first movies in this new wave were Skyline, I Am Number Four and now tonight’s film, I’m left wondering how many of these we have to go through until we get one that doesn’t suck.
Battle: Los Angeles was clearly designed to be a war movie first and an alien invasion movie second, made with an eye toward authenticity in its depiction of the U.S. Marines. That’s a noble and appreciable goal for filmmakers to strive for. As part of that approach, the opening fifteen minutes are spent introducing our cast of characters before shit hits the fan. In this genre of movie, that’s a laudable and too-often-forgotten service to the audience. But when absolutely none of the characters are interesting or sympathetic in spite of all this time and effort toward characterization, that’s a really big fucking problem.
We spend the entire film following this ensemble of jarheads, yet there is absolutely no way to tell any of them apart. Without that, we’re just watching a whole bunch of guys scream at each other, blow things up, get blown up and throw testosterone around, all without the slightest emotional connection. The only ones who stand out are the ones played by Aaron Eckhardt and Michelle Rodriguez, and that’s only because they’re played by Aaron Eckhardt and Michelle Rodriguez.
Don’t get me wrong: I’ve been a fan of Eckhardt since Thank You For Smoking. He’s an amazing actor and I’ll watch him in anything. True to form, Eckhardt really brings his A-game to this movie… but the screenplay gives him nothing to work with. Eckhardt tried so hard to make a memorable character, but he was hindered at every turn by a script with totally bland characterization. My favorite examples of this come shortly after a civilian dies, when Eckhardt is given dialogue that’s unintentionally hilarious, in spite of Eckhardt’s clearly Herculean efforts to the contrary.
But what about Michelle Rodriguez? Well… what about her? Eckhardt might have been a strong enough acting talent to escape this black hole of bad screenwriting, but with all respect to Ms. Rodriguez, she never stood a chance.
I’d like to say that on a technical level, this movie isn’t bad. The score by Brian Tyler is phenomenal and it really adds a lot to the emotion and scope of what’s happening on screen. Likewise, the sound design is wonderful and does a lot to make the film more engaging. The special effects are also extremely well-done, creating alien life forms and weaponry that seem very lifelike. That said, one single shot of this film is enough to make any technical defense of it die in my throat.
The camera work and editing in this movie are HORRIBLE. Even during the quieter dialogue-driven scenes, there isn’t a shot of this movie that goes longer than two seconds. The film has countless extreme close-ups that are useless and frankly uncomfortable. The worst of these are in the film’s beginning, which also has lens flares that take up the whole damn frame. Last but not least, roughly half of this film is composed of shaky-cam shots that are so incomprehensible and unwatchable that they would give Michael Bay nausea. This is a film that tries far too hard with its “cinema verite” approach, going way past “immersive” and right back around to being “ugly.”
Battle: Los Angeles is a misfire. Considering the ambition, sincerity and effort that clearly went into this, it’s such a shame that the whole thing was undone by sloppy storytelling and piss-poor visuals. I really do wish I could like this film, but it’s so deeply flawed by such fundamentally incompetent filmmaking that I can’t possibly recommend it.