Friday, March 11, 2011

NOW SHOWING: "Battle: Los Angeles"

If you love war movies, alien invasion movies, and Westerns, “Battle: Los Angeles” is for you. It combines these genres in an entertaining, if unoriginal way. You will recognize parts of “Black Hawk Down”, “Star Wars”, any suicide mission movie, any small unit movie, and numerous hold the fort against the Indians movies. Its plot is old school, but it is given a modern feel with new school hand held camera looks, point of view filming and quick cuts. The violence is also new school in its frenetic and chaotic nature. There are plenty of explosions to sate the American audience. “Battle: Los Angeles” is replete with clichés, but they are comforting for many war movie lovers. These clichés include the heterogeneous unit, the redemption of the leader who lost men on his last mission, the BFF who sacrifices himself, to name a few. Also, if you don’t like surprises, you’ll be able to predict most of the plot turns.

The movie begins with an alien invasion of Earth. Surprisingly, the movie is set in August of 2011. Sgt. Nantz (Alan Eckhart) is due to retire, but of course postpones it to serve his country in this crisis. He is assigned to a new unit headed by the soon-to-be new father Lt. Martinez. (Cliché alert) We are introduced to the members of the squad through brief snippets. One is about to get married, one is a cherry who has not lost his, one is being flagged by the psychiatrist, one is a Nigerian medic, etc. Nantz brings baggage to his new platoon because he left some men behind on his last mission. Will he get redemption?

Their mission is to go behind enemy lines to rescue an unknown number of civilians at a police station. As if it’s not a suicide mission to begin with, they have only three hours before the Air Force toasts the area. Why you would waste valuable warriors for this is not questioned. They naturally run into an ambush as we get our first look at the aliens. They look like the aliens in “District Nine”, only much harder to kill. Strangely, sometimes they move with stealthy speed over roof tops and other times they lumber forward down streets. Their weapons are apparently some type of white phosphorous-like projectile that produces thermal burns.

They hook up with some survivors including a female Air Force intelligence officer (Michelle Rodriguez). Women may not be allowed in combat, but this babe can dish it out when given the opportunity. The unit reaches the police station to find only five civilians. The station becomes Fort Apache for a while. A medevac helicopter gives the director the opportunity to have a spectacular explosion and to prove virgins never survive in a movie like this. Luckily, there is a bus nearby that they can ride to safety. Nantz does “some real John Wayne shit” (do Marines still refer to John Wayne tactics?) to destroy a drone. Things are going well with the alien aircraft apparently unable to spot a moving bus in a desolate landscape. Unfortunately, the joy ride ends with busted tires from shrapnel. An intense fire-fight ensues with the LT sacrificing himself to blow up the enemy which conveniently puts Nantz in command.

They next take refuge in a store (in a Western, this would be a watering hole) so we can have some more exposition and bonding and a touching death scene. They also will wait out the bombardment, which does not come. They continue to the Forward Operating Base, but find that the evil Transformers (whoops, wrong movie) have already been there leaving no one even wounded. They plow their way out in a Stryker and Humvee which allows them to run over some aliens. They reach a heli evacuation site and are on their way to safety when Nantz discovers the alien command and control center and decides to go after it alone. Surprise, the rest of the squad goes with him. It’s a foot bound assault on the Death Star. The rest you can see for yourself.

I know I’m being a bit snarky, but I actually enjoyed this movie. You have to take what you can get these days in the arid landscape of war movies. It is an entertaining movie with lots of action and some decent acting. It is very pro-Marines and anti-aliens. If the marines did not give full cooperation in the production, they got a free two hour commercial. It is simplistic in its plot, but competent in its execution. You may get a headache from the intensity of the combat scenes, but that’s what we’re looking for, right?


  1. Sorry to say but this is a genre I hate. As much as historically misleading war movies are an annoyance in some cases I still do not mind them as much as a movie who needs to invent a war. I find those dangerous as they blur the lines. Someone might watch Black Hawk Down later on and not even be able to realize this is true. I am not saying I wouldn't find this entertaining somehow but I think it should be mentioned together with movies like Predators and is definitely not a war but an action movie. I think the "war" part in any war movie should be tied to a historical event. Insofar Casablanca is more of a war movie than this one...
    Sorry, if I am bit harsh.
    Could you compare to Legion, please. You liked this better, right?

  2. This is a point I have been pondering - is "Starship Troopers" a war movie? It is obvious you would say no. I tend to think if it is about war, even futuristic war, it can be included in the genre. I would certainly argue that this is more of a war movie than Casablanca. When I watch a movie like this I am looking not for historical accuracy (of course), but for tactical accuracy. Did the Marines fight like the Marines would? "Battle" is okay in this respect.

    As far as blurring the lines, I do not mind much what a futuristic movie plot does other than whether it is entertaining. With a movie set in the past, I get very upset when it tampers with facts and realism. I can relax with a movie like "Battle".

    You would hate this movie. It has numerous flaws and is being crucified by the critics. I liked it because I recognized it for what it is and was not expecting much. It is a B movie even with the new technology. It is also aimed at the gamer generation (which I am not a member of) and it hits its mark there.

    By "Legion", I am assuming you mean "The Eagle". "Battle" is better partly because (as I said) it has no history to mangle. "Battle" is closer to "Centurion" in plot. I would say "Centurion" is the better movie.

  3. I haven't made up my mind yet whether I do want to include Starship Troopers and Battlestar Galactica or not. If they do not invent and erath-based war and are purely SF then I might include them as a subgenre. Of course, I meant The Eagle. I just mentioned it as it also recent. My problem with "invented" wars is that they seem to belittle the actual tragedies that take place all over the world. I know this may seem an extreme reaction but I cannot help it.

  4. Your point about "invented" wars belittling real wars is an interesting one. I had not thought of that.

    Battlestar Galactica? That opens another can of worms. Should series or miniseries be included on lists of war movies? As of now, I am not considering Band of Brothers as a war movie.

  5. Michelle Rodriguez has a whole niche to herself playing the tuff woman warrior role in these movies. I think alot of guys love a good lookin woman in uniform packing heat. That cop that arrested her for speeding a few years back in Hawaii prob thought she was sexy!
    Starship Troopers was definitely a war movie. Just one set in the future of course. The plot was basic gung ho off to war style of many a traditional war movie. Not to mention capturing the carnage of combat (prob a touch to much). Despite its over the top violence it is a hell of an entertaining movie and actually one of the better SF movies ever made. I love SF movies where the aliens dont have that "star trek" generic two legged look. Hell, even Alien had that to a point. ST just suffered from mediocre acting in general from a young cast. The best acting came out of Michael Ironside. It also had some of the best special effects work ever done i think in both creature animation and spaceships. Robert Heinlein liked his military SF and I think overall he would have liked this take on his novel. Look at the armored suits in Avatar for example...right out of Heinlein. Now if they had used some of those in ST...but thats hollywood for you.
    Absolutely no comment on Battlestar Galactica since I was excited to watch it as a kid as you prob know. Hey we all get older and (a little) wiser. Starbuck my ass.

  6. Rodriguez has made an amazing comeback after being booted off "Lost".

    Is "Aliens" a war movie?

  7. Aliens a war movie? Nope. They battle the aliens but there is no real war involved. In Starship the humans are at war with the Bugs. That is made very clear. Cameron just chose to make his actors "marines" to give it a military feel. They could have easily have been heavily armed space jockeys. One thing it does is cut back on the special effects cost since bullets are alot less expensive then laser effects. Same thing in Avatar. i would call Aliens a SF military adventure. Still got the best line in recent movie history tho: "Get away from her, you BITCH!"
    Last night THIS network showed The Gallant Hours and Play Dirty. Didnt like The Gallant Hours much from what i saw. One of those pseudo doc movies. Like Tora!Tora!Tora! i guess. I had just seen Play Dirty which is much better. THIS sure shows alot of old war movies. I keep expecting Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison any day now. I like that one too. A horny Mr. Mitchum stuck on an island with Sister Kerr. Entertaining if ridiculous.

  8. Nice review; In my review too I have mentioned that if you just see it as...war will like it..but as science fiction...naah !! still I am glad that you enjoyed it.


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