Film Review – Battle: Los Angeles

Somewhere in Hollywood, on some producer’s desk, sits the ultimate playbook of movies. Not unlike that of a football team, this movie playbook consists of every conceivable plan of action that is needed, every feasible film genre known to Hollywood, and the step-by-step guides on how to reproduce the films manufactured from these formulas. While I’m fully aware that by decreeing this I’m doing two things: One, I’m overstating the obvious, which is evident to anyone who’s seen more than three Hollywood films in the past five years. And, two: I’m making mention of the book that some insiders claim is, “the tome that shan’t be named.” It’s kind of like the first rule of Fight Club: you don’t talk about it. Therefore, by doing so, I’m either opening myself up to be the target of Hollywood assassination, or this article will just be dismissed and played off as the one that went there.

Whatever my fate, make no mistake about it, Battle: Los Angeles was beyond a shadow of a doubt made from this fabled playbook. It pains me to find the words to express how unoriginal every frame of this movie is. No, seriously. Some people will see this and think, “It’s not that bad, I don’t know what all the hate is about.” Those people are the lucky ones. If you’re like me, though, and you’ve perhaps played one or more of the games in the blockbuster video game series Call of Duty and thought to yourself “the next game we need is,Call of Duty: Alien Invasion,” then this movie is going to be one long, frustrating, non-interactive gaming experience.

The nine or so levels of game play that compromises this so-called movie begin with a CGI Armageddon of L.A. and then flash backward to earlier, where supposedly we can see who our heroes, as people, really are. According to the great “book,” an ensemble war film such as this must comprise of at least the following: a soldier engaged to be wed, a soldier whose wife is pregnant, a soldier who already has a family, a soldier with a bright future…the trend emerges and repeats. The last and yet greatest of all the required positions is that of the commanding officer who ordered his men to their deaths and himself came back alive, only to carry with him the guilt. Once we get these pesky character formalities out of the way, the movie can then move on to its main attraction: meteors with aliens inside.

Aliens rain from the heavens down upon the Earth. They bring violence and a thirst only our oceans can sate. For a group of Marines lead by Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz (Aaron Ekhart) it’s nine or so levels of ass kicking time. Along the way, their deaths will be many, drawn out, and telegraphed from a mile away. Anytime someone says, “Someone needs to go there and do this, but it’s going to be dangerous,” then you will know—as it then happens again, and again, and again, etc. If there is one thing Battle: Los Angeles does well, it’s repetition. This is where it really embodies a video game. Instead of a story structure, the characters traverse the city-like levels, and we follow along with them every step of the way. Most of the time the camera is placed just above and behind shoulder level of one of the characters—also like a video game.

In my humble opinion, the handheld shaky cam is the worst thing that happened to the action film, with CGI blood being a close second. I firmly believe films like Battle: Los Angeles are the prime example of my opinion. Modern day action scenes have replaced steady grace and spectacle with the gritty, fidgeting close-up. Instead of allowing the audience to see the action, the handheld camera, with its jarring and jagging, intends to make the audience feel the action—an emotion that can never be truly conjured from this medium. It is then best to allow for enjoyment via observation, by placating the voyeur in every filmgoer. Also, modern day action films such as this have eliminated appropriate scores. Instead, in an attempt to go for the documentary feel, they opt out of music, leaving us with heavy breathing. As gun shots rattle and things explode, huffing and furious nasal puffing overcrowd us. Remember in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, when our three titular characters face off against the epic backdrop of Ennio Morricone’s haunting score? Now we get nervous breathing…

To say the least, Battle: Los Angeles left me feeling battle fatigued by the time we reached its “already been seen” ending. To what movie I refer will remain unsaid, as to mention it would mean, of course, a major spoiler. So for now we shall treat it as the white elephant in the room, and move on to some sort of conclusion. One where actors do their part, aliens are things to be shot, and L.A. is one hell of a multi-level video game that somewhere still has a playbook waiting for our heroes to rescue if they want that extra achievement point. Hooah!

Grade: D-


Benjamin Nason is a writer, film-maker and critic from the Pacific Northwest, where he lives with his cat Lulu.

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