“Battle: Los Angeles” (also titled “Battle: LA” or internationally “World Invasion: Battle Los Angeles”) is a war movie with aliens in it, according to director Jonathan Liebesman. He was inspired by the styles of “Black Hawk Down” and “Saving Private Ryan”. The quasi-documentary style was an attempt to replicate video footage of Marines in Fallujah, Iraq. The seed of the script came from a legendary incident called the “Battle of Los Angeles” which occurred in 1942 after Pearl Harbor. Panic over the war situation led to a barrage of anti-aircraft fire to stop a supposed Japanese attack. Apparently, this was an extreme overreaction to a weather balloon. (The same incident inspired the movie “1941”.) The movies budget was $100 million and it grossed over $200 million worldwide. It was filmed in Louisiana due to financial incentives. The production had extensive cooperation from the Pentagon including using Marines as extras and the use of Osprey aircraft and helicopters. The actors were put through a three-week boot camp to learn platoon tactics and how Marines behave. Technical advisers were provided for realism.
The movie is set in the present. Sgt. Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) is about to retire, unless something unforeseen prevents it. That unforeseen event is the arrival of aliens via meteors. They make an amphibious invasion onto the beaches of L.A. Nantz is assigned to a new platoon whose mission is to help evacuate civilians from the city before it is bombed to stop the aliens. The clock is ticking. They are ambushed at the start by alien infantry. The alien warriors are biological creatures with exoskeletons that have weapons and communications implanted. They are 8 feet tall and hard to kill, but not invulnerable. Although robotic, they are equivalent of Soviet infantry from WWII. The aliens get air support from drones that quickly establish air superiority. Nantz’s platoon, led by a green Lt., takes refuge in a police station for the last stand portion of the movie. They find a few civilians to protect. From the police station, the movie kicks into the escape through enemy lines sequence. This results in a nifty fire-fight on an overpass. Some will eventually reach safety In the final act, Nantz and his suicide squad must save mankind by taking out the alien command center.
“BLA” is surprisingly good for a combat porn movie. It has a high percentage of action, but it is not graphic because Liebesman wanted a PG-13 rating. There are lots of explosions and copious expenditure of ammunition. The aliens are a worthy foe and although superior, they are not “War of the Worlds” superior. Although the movie emphasizes that they have only one weak spot, they are actually pretty easy to kill. The fire-fights are fairly equal and the tactics of both sides make sense. The Marines use covering fire and fire and maneuver. They have current weapons, mostly the M4A1 and M16A4. Curiously, the American forces are missing artillery support, bombers, and helicopter gunships. And, of course, no nukes because that would be too easy. The aliens are armed with machine guns and grenade launchers. Their drones fire phosphorous explosives.
The plot is basically that of a WWII movie. There is nothing original, but it is competently done. There are some clichés. Nantz is in need of redemption. The green Lt. earns respect through self-sacrifice. The enemy “brain” must be destroyed. The characters are stereotypes with the addition of the now standard strong female warrior portrayed by Michelle Rodriquez (who else?). There is only cursory character development because that is not what the audience came for, plus you have seen all the personalities before. Thankfully, they are not forced to mouth trite dialogue and the acting is fine. Eckhart makes a good anchor and he put his heart into the role. (He broke an arm in a fall and continued without a cast.) The boot camp must have worked because the actors have the Marine ethos down. They move like Marines. Speaking of movement, the cinematography makes heavy use of hand-held cameras and you get the impression you are with them as they maneuver. The CGI is not cheesy and the aliens are impressive, if derivative of films like “District 9”. Kudos to the drone designer. Those are original and their ramshackle look has led to the fan theory that the aliens are attacking Earth not only for its tropeish water resources, but possibly because warfare has decimated their home planet.
BLA is an underrated sci-fi war movie. It is entertaining, especially if you look at it as intended – a war movie with aliens in it. The action is consistent and the plot, if predictable, moves briskly. It does have an “America, fuck yeah!” vibe to it, but sometimes we just need to revel in patriotism. Especially when it comes to protecting our country from despicable aliens who have come to take our H2O.
GRADE = B