Battle: Los Angeles

Movie Information

The Story: A group of marines help to fight off an alien invasion in Los Angeles. The Lowdown: A generic mish-mash of sci-fi and war film that works on that simple basis, but offers little else.
Score:

Genre: Sci-Fi Action
Director: Jonathan Liebesman (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning)
Starring: Aaron Eckhart, Ramon Rodriguez, Cory Hardrict, Bridget Moynahan, Ne-Yo
Rated: PG-13

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.

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46 thoughts on “Battle: Los Angeles

  1. Dionysis

    “what…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.”

    That’s just a tad dismissive, don’t you think? Sure, plenty of films of this genre (maybe most of them) can be so characterised, but as Ray Bradbury has been quoted as saying…

    “science fiction is the only fiction that deals with the technology problems–and these days it is all technology–and life of the present or pointing out what could happen tomorrow if we don’t make changes.”

    Films like ‘Metropolis’, ’1984′ and ’2001: A Space Odyssey’ (to name a few) are generally regarded as a little more significant than “matinee fodder’.

  2. Ken Hanke

    I could be wrong, but I think Justin’s specifically talking about alien invasion movies, not science fiction in the broader sense.

  3. DrSerizawa

    There have been a few alien invasion movies that were anything but mindless matinee fodder. The Mysterians, It Conquered The World, Enemy From Space and 5 Million Years To Earth come immediately to mind. They tried to deal with deeper issues and did it fairly effectively IMHO. But I suspect that Justin is referring to modern CGI-heavy alien invasion action movies which are a more recent development and essentially mindless. Independence Day, Starship Troopers (shudder), Avatar etc….. sometimes entertaining for one viewing but essentially garbage. Even schlocky camp like Killer Clowns From Outer Space or, heck, The Blob are more memorable than these CGI-fests.

    I stand by my belief that the bigger the budget, the worse the sci-fi movie.

  4. Dionysis

    “I could be wrong, but I think Justin’s specifically talking about alien invasion movies, not science fiction in the broader sense.”

    I see; I may have misinterpreted what he meant by use of the word ‘genre’ (‘Sci-Fi Action’). Perhaps alien invasion films should properly be considered a sub-genre.

  5. Ken Hanke

    There have been a few alien invasion movies that were anything but mindless matinee fodder. The Mysterians, It Conquered The World, Enemy From Space and 5 Million Years To Earth come immediately to mind.

    I’d somewhat concede The Mysterians. I have reservations about It Conquered the World (that is the Zucchini monster in the cave, right?), but certainly neither Enemy from Space (Quatermass 2), nor Five Million Years to Earth (Quatermass and the Pit) are mindless. It’s interesting to note, however, that the last two were written by a guy who didn’t like science fiction.

    But I suspect that Justin is referring to modern CGI-heavy alien invasion action movies which are a more recent development and essentially mindless.

    That’s my guess, since I imagine that’s his primary alien invasion frame of reference. That said, there’s a lot of bargain basement 1950s alien invasion stuff that’s…well, not exactly sterling, e.g., Invisible Invaders, The Cosmic Man, Plan 9, Robot Monster, The Brain from Planet Arous, even my somewhat beloved Invaders from Mars. These may have a naive charm, but they’re certainly not deep dish.

  6. Justin Souther

    I see; I may have misinterpreted what he meant by use of the word ‘genre’ (‘Sci-Fi Action’). Perhaps alien invasion films should properly be considered a sub-genre.

    I did, in fact, mean the alien invasion film, which is more accurately a sub-genre. Though if it makes any difference, in last week’s Adjustment Bureau review I was — at least to some degree — attempting to hail sci-fi’s potential for subversiveness.

  7. Justin Souther

    I stand by my belief that the bigger the budget, the worse the sci-fi movie.

    Not only do I believe basically the same thing, but those are the alien invasion movies that have always been around for me and are familiar to me (which, granted, is my fault). When you’ve gotten a steady diet of stuff like Independence Day, Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, Skyline and the like, it’s easy to be jaded.

    Off the top of my head, I can’t think of an honestly good alien invasion film from the last 30 years (unless we want to count District 9, except the “invasion” has already happened before the movie has started), but maybe I’m just overlooking something.

  8. Ken Hanke

    Not only do I believe basically the same thing, but those are the alien invasion movies that have always been around for me and are familiar to me (which, granted, is my fault).

    Cheer up. Aren’t we running the 1953 Invaders from Mars next month?

  9. bobby

    honestly i was expecting marines outside the theatre after the Battle: Los Angeles finished handing join the military pamplets. It was so promilitary i wanted to puke.

  10. Dionysis

    “Off the top of my head, I can’t think of an honestly good alien invasion film from the last 30 years…”

    I basically agree with you on this; one possible exception that I am aware of is a BBC made-for-television movie of several years ago titled ‘Invasion:Earth’ with Fred Ward and a British supporting cast. While somewhat ‘talkie’ in parts, and by no mean a big-budget film, it was a somber and well-done take on the theme (there were two different alien types…the ones invading came from ‘higher dimensions’).

    Cheezy or not, I’ve always enjoyed alien invasion flicks in general, but there haven’t been too many good ones.

  11. DrSerizawa

    I’d somewhat concede The Mysterians. I have reservations about It Conquered the World (that is the Zucchini monster in the cave, right?)

    I meant that while these had a lot of silliness and especially ICTW suffered from its low budget they approached the subject with more seriousness and depth than recent CGI laden schlock and didn’t inflict jingoist speeches on us. And the main characters weren’t mere ciphers. When Peter Graves was forced to shoot his own wife it carried a lot emotional weight… something entirely missing from recent CGI-fare. ICTW would have been improved greatly if they’d never shown the martian invader but, hey, the times demanded a BEM so they got a BEM.

    And, probably the best of the lot, the original The Thing is still claustrophobic and creepy to watch alone at might even though I’ve seen it a dozen times or more.

    It’s true that most of the moves of that era were exploitation schlock, but they were cheap fun exploitation schlock and in 50 years I suspect that idiots like me will still be enjoying them while Independence Day, Avatar and Battle LA will be long forgotten. Independence Day especially is a movie that gets worse with every viewing.

    I realize I’m partial to old scifi because I saw it in the theaters when I was a kid and it was fun and new then. I completely understand why most people dislike it. I just can’t understand why the new CGI scifi makes money.

  12. Daniel Withrow

    In the genre, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956 and 1978, IIRC) are my two favorites, but that’s because they’re both the only films I ever wrote an undergrad paper on, and the only films I ever pretended like Freudian psychology had anything useful to say about.

  13. bill smith

    Haven’t seen the movie yet, but the Trailers sure make the plot seem INCREDIBLY racist and xenophobic.

    Am I the only one?

    Oh Know! Illegal Aliens are invading Southern California!

  14. Justin Souther

    Haven’t seen the movie yet, but the Trailers sure make the plot seem INCREDIBLY racist and xenophobic.

    Am I the only one?

    Oh Know! Illegal Aliens are invading Southern California!

    From where I see it, the idea that this movie has any ideas in its head — racist, xenophobic, or not — is probably giving it too much credit. I guess you could make the argument that it’s being irresponsible, but there’s nary any motivation beyond stuff blowing up real good.

  15. bill smith

    I’m just saying that people like a certain recently deposed local GOP spokesman might have a certain interpretation.

  16. Ken Hanke

    I’m just saying that people like a certain recently deposed local GOP spokesman might have a certain interpretation

    I haven’t seen them film and the only trailer I saw mostly consister of surfers menaced by something coming out of the sky, but I have never seen much evidence of an ability to ferret out subtext in certain quarters.

  17. BigAl

    Dr. Serizawa wrote: “There have been a few alien invasion movies that were anything but mindless matinee fodder…Starship Troopers (shudder)…sometimes entertaining for one viewing but essentially garbage.”

    I am surprised that you did not pick up the subtle indictment of fascism and militarism in this film. Director Verhoven made it very clear in his public statements and the film’s commentary (for the few who bothered to listen to them) that this was his intent. This should qualify it as at least a bit above “mindless fodder”.

    Alien invasion films provide the only remaining protagonists for heroic soldiers to battle without being labeled as oppressive racists, imperialists and opportunists. Every war film made nowadays is an anti-war film, every hero an anti-hero. The only way to have an old-fashioned war film of good guys in white hats saving the day is to face them off against mindless robots and evil aliens whose technologically-enhanced near-omnipotence makes them void of compassion or humility.

  18. Ken Hanke

    Every war film made nowadays is an anti-war film

    That’s pretty much true been true of most war pictures that weren’t made during a war with the express purpose of conveying how evil the enemy is.

  19. bill smith

    I agree with BigAl. Where are all the films glorifying war and all of the atrocities that go along with them? It’s a noted absence, for sure.

  20. Ken Hanke

    I may just have a suspicious nature, but I detect a trace of sarcasm in that statement, Bill.

  21. DrSerizawa

    There was nothing subtle about “Starship Troopers”. Apparently Verhoeven has either never read the book or is too stupid to understand it. Rather than treat it even a little bit respectfully it just became another propaganda vehicle.

  22. Dionysis

    DrSerizawa,

    Regarding ‘Starship Troopers’, I agree with you. Setting aside the theme of the movie, I’ve always been bugged (he he) by the fact that in the movie, while set way in the future, the military still uses bullets. No nifty ray guns or laser canon, just plain ol’ bullets. If you’ve read the book, is it written that way? This detail ranks up there with ‘The Abyss’ (no fish in the entire film)in the ‘Oh Brother’ category.

  23. Ken Hanke

    There was nothing subtle about “Starship Troopers”. Apparently Verhoeven has either never read the book or is too stupid to understand it.

    Even though I don’t care much for Heinlein (though I’ve never read this), I’m not exactly an apologist for Verhoeven (all his films I’ve liked are Dutch), it probably should be noted that he neither wrote the screenplay, nor produced this, so his position was likely that of a hired gun.

  24. Justin Souther

    so his position was likely that of a hired gun.

    Seeing as how this came after Showgirls, you’re probably right.

    I got in an argument last night with someone over how I could like Robert Rodriguez’s stuff, but not care for Robocop or Starship Troopers. While they’re both filmmakers make sufficiently cheesy action pictures, it’s all about tone for me. Rodriguez is totally cognizant of his film’s cheesiness, while I can’t quite get a bead on what Verhoeven often thinks he’s doing. He’s all kinds of corny, yet he almost seems too into it, and never manages to temper this with anything else (something he seems to have better control of with his Dutch work). There’s also this overriding sense that he wants to make a statement, but can’t quite figure out how. I’m still trying to figure out how all of Verhoeven’s work fits together as a piece.

  25. Daniel Withrow

    When I first saw Starship Troopers, I was really disturbed by it: I thought it was a satire that forgot halfway through that it was a satire and ended up loving the fascism it started off critiquing. Later I found out that Verhoven despises his audience, and it made a lot more sense.

  26. Ken Hanke

    I’m still trying to figure out how all of Verhoeven’s work fits together as a piece.

    If you find out, let me know.

  27. Ken Hanke

    Later I found out that Verhoven despises his audience, and it made a lot more sense.

    And you found this out how?

  28. DrSerizawa

    If you’ve read the book, is it written that way?

    The deus ex machina in the book was powered armor. The troops could run hundreds of miles and jump hundreds of feet and carried mini-nukes, etc etc. That was the first disappointment for Heinlein fans.

    But the book was not centered on combat. The main gist was an exposition on the sort of society where people had to volunteer for 2 years of Federal Service in order to obtain voting rights. Other than that a voter had no privileges or rights over a non-voter. You didn’t have to join the military, you could be a forest ranger or any other opportunities of service. Heinlein’s idea was simply to consider that it might make a better society to give voting rights to those who were willing to put the nation ahead of themselves. Some people of limited intellect or inadequate education thought that this meant that Heinlein was a Nazi. The society of “Starship Troopers” was run by civilians and was not a fascist dictatorship.

    If I mis-characterised Verhoeven I’ll withdraw my remark, but apparently someone decided to turn Heinlein’s philosophical postulate into some sort of twisted military dictatorship. This is why Heinlein fans (of which I am not one) were so upset. I like some of his earlier stuff but he apparently went insane around the time of “Stranger In A Strange Land” and his uber-libertarian preaching became too annoying and repetitive for me.

  29. Ken Hanke

    If I mis-characterised Verhoeven I’ll withdraw my remark

    You may not have. I’m only looking at it from the probability suggested by the credits.

    his uber-libertarian preaching became too annoying and repetitive for me.

    Well, being that I would pretty much qualify for his term “moonbat,” that’s a major sticking point with me. It feels too much like Ayn Rand Goes to Mars.

  30. Daniel Withrow

    “Learned” might be putting it a bit strongly. Some film-buff guy on another messageboard put forth a theory about Verhoven’s work centering around his utter contempt for his audience, and how the true object of his satire were the slackjawed schmoes shelling out for tickets for mindless crass entertainment. It didn’t make me like Verhoven’s work any more, but at least it made sense.

  31. BigAl

    “If I mis-characterised Verhoeven I’ll withdraw my remark”

    You were close enough for this Heinlein fan. How subtle the films intent was to portray fascism can be debated (most people I talked to after the film were clueless, they even missed the obvious Nazi symbolism), but he clearly moved far from the intent of the original story, which you DID elude to: “The main gist was an exposition on the sort of society where people had to volunteer for 2 years of Federal Service in order to obtain voting rights…Heinlein’s idea was simply to consider that it might make a better society to give voting rights to those who were willing to put the nation ahead of themselves.”

    All true, HOWEVER: the open disdain for the military and the opposition of the narrator’s wealthy parents to his joining the service instead of using their influence to get into college, which his poor grades did not entitle him to, implied that while only veterans of military and civil service ran the county (world?), those non-voters with wealth could pull the strings from behind the curtain, i.e. “the more things change…”.

    I was also disappointed with the lack of mobile infantry suits or the telepathic K-9 corps (indirectly referenced by the telepathic powers of the narrator’s high school buddy and his ferret).

    I was also offended by the implication that Heinlen was a fascist until I realized that only the bare bones of the story idea ever made it inot the movie and that Veerhoven was intent on making a fascist film before he ever heard of the book.

    It was also intersting to note the presence in the book of such archaic devices in the 21st century such as corporal punishment (the lash), soldiers mending their own uniforms, and hand-to-hand combat (to instill aggression into men raised in a peaceful Utopian society), some of which DID make it into the film.

    Starship Troopers (the book) was Heinlein’s dystopic view of the future, but I would recommend Space Cadet (a horrid title but a great read) for a more optomistic view of a future where the Interstellar Guard (think Coast guard in space) solves 99% of problems with diplomacy and scientific exploration, with the Marine Corps and orbiting nukes controlled by the UN as the “last resort”, or if you prefer, as the lingering spectre of their wicked past (or the One World Government or our future) that awaits if mankind doesn’t learn to play nice.

  32. BigAl

    “I agree with BigAl. Where are all the films glorifying war and all of the atrocities that go along with them?”

    I would ask, where all of the films that show the “good wars” (yes, there were a few) in which American heroes fought for their own country’s independance (1776), ended slavery (1865), and stopped fascist world domination and ended genocide (1945) without some bed-wetting pseudo-intellectual crying “but we are no better than they are!” There are some times and places where freedom and prosperity cannot be easily won by policy wonk diplomats or activist do-gooders, and I think those places and times should be portrayed without the guilt and sanctimony that Hollywood feels compelled to stick into every war film.

    But until then, we can keep making inoffensive shoot-em-ups so long as the enemy does not really exist (aliens, robots, cyborgs etc.) And when they do come around, they will just as likely eat (or assimilate) Amenesty Intl and ACLU lawyers along with the rest of us.

  33. bill smith

    @BigAl Which wars stopped Fascism and Genocide and Slavery? Last i checked, all of those things are still thriving.

  34. Ken Hanke

    Last i checked, all of those things are still thriving.

    Yeah, that stuff still seems to be around.

  35. Ken Hanke

    Some film-buff guy on another messageboard put forth a theory about Verhoven’s work centering around his utter contempt for his audience, and how the true object of his satire were the slackjawed schmoes shelling out for tickets for mindless crass entertainment.

    All that makes it is some guy’s theory. It doesn’t make it true. I don’t know what you’ve seen of Verhoeven’s work, but “mindless crass entertainment” is not a phrase I would apply to Turkish Delight, Spetters, Soldier of Orange, The Fourth Man or Black Book. The crap he made in the U.S. is another matter.

  36. Daniel Withrow

    Sure, it’s someone’s theory–that’s why I said it that way. I’m certainly not claiming it’s true, only that it helped me make sense of Verhoven’s work. All I’ve seen of his work is his American stuff. It may very well be that he doesn’t hate his European intelligentsia audience. But try as I may—and despite anything that might be suggested—I will never be a European intellectual.

  37. Ken Hanke

    Sure, it’s someone’s theory—that’s why I said it that way.

    Well, no, you originally said you “found out” that he “despises” his audience, and that’s a very different thing.

    It may very well be that he doesn’t hate his European intelligentsia audience.

    I’m sorry, but I’m not convinced that he hates his American audience.

    But try as I may—and despite anything that might be suggested—I will never be a European intellectual.

    Neither will I.

  38. Daniel Withrow

    Yes, I originally said “found out”; although I corrected it subsequently, consider the score one point in your favor.

  39. Will Lugar

    This detail ranks up there with ‘The Abyss’ (no fish in the entire film)in the ‘Oh Brother’ category.
    Perhaps the fish were frightened away by the aura of the aliens.

  40. Ken Hanke

    Perhaps the fish were frightened away by the aura of the aliens.

    Or by James Cameron.

  41. DrSerizawa

    Re: Verhoeven. People can conjecture all they like but it can be an error to attribute too much nicety to Verhoeven’s intent. His quote: “I’d always wanted to do a movie about the Second World War, because I think it is an extremely interesting period. And since I’d experienced the Nazi occupation of my homeland when I was a boy, the concept also had personal connections; Starship Troopers seemed to be an opportunity to explore that period in an unusual way. . . .” This reveals to me that he saw the book as a vehicle to yet again beat a well worn subject to death and apparently cared not for the book’s actual content.

    Re: Starship Troopers. Regardless of who is to blame, the end result was a terrible mistreatment of a well loved Scifi book by one of the most important SciFi authors. And apparently the purpose was to make just another pedestrian anti-war movie couched as a bang-bang-shoot-em-up with nothing new to say. Yep. Sounds like a Hollywood studio.

    Though Heinlein hadn’t yet been treated nearly as horribly as Isaac Asimov, if any one is counting.

  42. Daniel Withrow

    I’m an avid science fiction reader, and I can rattle off a good dozen authors whose work is powerful and engrossing and beautiful, and I think Heinlein is an overrated self-important hack. His importance is historical, not aesthetic. Compare his Starship Troopers to Ender’s Game or Old Man’s War to see its shortcomings cast in stark relief. Starship Troopers, the novel, is IMO terribly written; Verhoeven’s treatment only improved the utterly pedestrian source material. Not that I liked it, but at least it had some meat to it.

  43. Mike

    Yeah, because a film should be judged based on how faithful it is to the source material…

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