The simple thing would be to compare Battle: Los Angeles to Independence Day (1996) and Black Hawk Down (2001), being as it’s a mix of alien-invasion yarn and shaky-cam war footage. Or maybe—in its same use of handheld cameras and gritty vistas—mention how the film is a lot like District 9 (2009), but with a bigger budget and all of the intelligence stripped away. But all I can really think about—and the one thing that lets me be a bit on the sympathetic side towards this film—is that at least Battle: Los Angeles isn’t as infinitely and infuriatingly awful as last year’s entrant into the world of evil space invaders, Skyline.
Battle: L.A. has the most in common with Skyline in the long line of alien invasion flicks, namely with its setting and its attempt to personalize a large-scale onslaught of little green men (or, in this case, big gray men in metal suits) down to the story of just a few. And while simply not sinking down to the depths of the maddening and puerile specter of Skyline isn’t a recommendation, there are comparisons to be drawn. For no matter how generic and cliched Battle: L.A. is, it never bothers attempting to be clever or cool like its predecessor. Where Skyline carries an air of haughtiness in its stupid tale of hot dudes and chicks fighting off aliens, Battle: L.A. never attempts to climb above its main goal of stuff blowing up.
And honestly, this feels like a bit of a reprieve, since even with a running time that closes in on two hours, the film moves quickly and never slows down for anything beyond the most base and obvious types of character development. This is plotting at its most cliched, as we follow a rag-tag group of ethnically diverse marines, each with a hang-up or a past. We even get the aging staff sergeant (Aaron Eckhart) who’s just about to retire. Of course, he doesn’t, because Earth is suddenly invaded by a whole bunch of aliens intent on stealing our water and laying waste to everyone and everything.
Our marines head out and do heroic things while speaking in slogans, with occasional stops for machismo and some speechifying. It’s just the usual things you expect from a movie heavy on militarism. You could make an argument that the film is simply one long recruitment video for the U.S. military, except I doubt many people are signing up to go shoot at aliens (and if they are, God bless them). Yes, it’s a corny, silly movie that attempts to take itself seriously, but what else does anyone expect from a story that exists within one of the corniest, silliest genres around, and one that’s never been more than matinee fodder. Since the film’s sole purpose is a lot of action and explosions and—even despite the nausea-inducing shaky-cam work—Battle: Los Angeles fulfills these aims, but does little more beyond this. Rated PG-13 for sustained and intense sequences of war violence and destruction, and for language.