Although I originally saw this movie about two weeks ago I’m writing about it now; partially because I had a great deal of academic responsibilities and partially because I wanted to think about the film before ripping into it. Basically, I didn’t want to needlessly bash this film before contemplating it for a few days but after about two weeks I feel confident in completely ripping it apart. In short, I really didn’t like Battle: Los Angeles. I found it a halfhearted copy of Independence Day, a mixture of Emmerich’s mediocre science fiction extravaganza and American military propaganda. I walked out of the theater saying to myself, “must join the Marines, must join the Marines,” before realizing I’m a pacifist and would rather rot in prison than join the military.
Battle: Los Angeles begins with a platoon of Marines travelling over Los Angeles in a helicopter amidst a large scale battle happening on the ground. The music builds, the soldiers are nervous, and after a brief examination of combat emotions the camera moves out and shows L.A. smoldering. The film then cuts to not even a day earlier and the audience meets the platoon, with each character receiving a brief amount of character development. The development is brief and the protagonists don’t really resonate or bestow anything worth grabbing on to. In essence, they’re one-dimensional and their survival isn’t very important. The only character with a moniker of development is Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart), a combat veteran whose last trip in Iraq ended in tragedy. One of the soldiers under his command in the film is the brother of a soldier Nantz lost while overseas and although this point of contention receives a few moments of development it still doesn’t make these characters sympathetic or relatable. I understand why the filmmakers did this, trying to get the character development out of the way for the sake of heavy combat action, but it just made the film flat and gave the characters no depth whatsoever.
Suddenly meteorites begin falling off the coast of Japan; then they start falling elsewhere and eventually the world is at war with an alien species with weaponry much more sophisticated than ours. Advancement by the invaders is swift, plunging Earth into an intergalactic war with large amounts of people dying in a matter of hours. In comes the military, with the Marines going into the cities and rescuing civilians. This is where Eckhart’s platoon enters the picture: they’re trying to save a gaggle of civilians hiding in a police station within three hours. After that the Air Force will drop a load of artillery on L.A., leveling it to a smoldering cinder. So not only are they fighting a superiorly armed enemy, they have three hours to vacate the city of die. Is it me or does this sound like an overused action film trope?
Eventually the Marines reach the civilians and battle their way out of Los Angeles. Naturally, since the aliens both outnumber and outgun them, there are many fatalities along the way and this is a perfect moment for director Jonathan Liebesman to infuse a large dose of schmaltz. Just about every character that perishes is given a hero’s sendoff, with melodrama breaking through the screen and slapping the audience in the face. In short, it’s saying, “You must feel bad here! This is where you should cry, get angry, and rally together against the other!”
Personally I think Battle: Los Angeles is nothing more than American military propaganda disguised as a science fiction special effects masturbatory fantasy. The overt sentimentalism attached to the soldiers, a sentiment which declares boldly the tenets of the Marines – honor, loyalty, service, etc. – is blatant and insulting. Basically I paid $8 for a two hour advertisement for the Marines with a large amount of CGI nonsense mixed in so it’s not completely obvious. I’m sure countless American teenagers walked out of the film feeling a sense of false patriotism which will land them in the military upon completing high school. If that’s the film’s intentions Liebesman should be ashamed. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy a good military film every now and then (especially if it’s an apocalyptic or post apocalyptic piece) – but Battle: Los Angeles doesn’t explore what it means to be human, what it means to really be a hero, or what amity really is. It’s selling a lie.
I think where this shines through the most is the idea of nationalism being relevant during a worldwide attack by aliens. In Alan Moore’s Watchmen (the comics, not the movie), hyper-nationalism ceased when humanity faced an exterior enemy, eradicating the need for the Cold War. Although nation’s still existed, patriotism became irrelevant; instead camaraderie replaced malevolence because the other wasn’t sitting across an ocean – it was an unknown, sitting outside our little blue sphere. When facing a calamity of the proportions depicted in Battle: Los Angeles, I don’t see the need for patriotism: it’s a dinosaur at that point. Naturally cultural distinctions are still relevant and one’s relationship to their home is too, but placing importance on social constructions (borders on a map, national ideology, etc.) becomes immaterial. Petty squabbles over land should take a back seat to an overwhelming threat; even Independence Day (with all its inane American jingoism) still demonstrated solidarity between people from different cultures, races, and nationalities. Battle: Los Angeles didn’t even address the broader sociopolitical implications of an interplanetary conflict, instead relying on Marine “Hoo-rah,” and bravado for its meat. For that, I can’t get behind this film or say it’s even interesting. It’s well crafted and expensive American propaganda riding on the coattails of quality science fiction which most times address the social ills of contemporary times.
For all my complaints against Battle: Los Angeles I will admit it is a quality piece of propaganda and even made me anxious a few times. The battle scenes are fashioned excellently and implement a barrage of clever techniques for intensifying the film’s tension. I’m not sure if this will work on a smaller screen, but in a dark movie theater with a screen two stories high, I felt like I was in the thick of the action. Implementing hyper-real techniques, such as shaking cameras which follow the actors through the scene (many times relying on a single shot for extended periods), Liebesman brings the audience into the middle of the conflict. However, while this was well done I’ve seen it done many times before and better – Children of Men or even Atonement’s depictions of war are more intense than those in Battle: Los Angeles. Liebesman has very few films under his belt (the most notorious being The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, which is a low-quality piece of crap) and it’s possible he’ll turn into a more competent director, but this film just reeks of plagiarism, lifting ideas from films like District 9, Children of Men, the Mad Max trilogy, Starship Troopers, and much more.
One thing I noticed was the awful timing between the film’s theatrical release and the tragedy in Japan. The film hit theaters the same day as the tsunami and earthquakes; unfortunately the invasion in Battle: Los Angeles begins in Japan, with the meteorites hitting the water and causing tsunamis. I know it wasn’t planned (who can foresee a natural disaster of such magnitude?) but it feels tasteless nonetheless. Watching a cinematic representation of events which happened only hours before Battle: Los Angeles’ first opening weekend showing isn’t something I normally enjoy and I felt guilty watching this trite film while so many people are dead or dispossessed.
I believe I’ve said enough about Battle: Los Angeles. My only advice is to avoid it at all costs, unless you’re a fan of America-style propaganda. It’s a trashy little film, relying on false nationalism and big-budget CGI for the majority of its luster and even Eckhart (who is usually excellent) can’t save it. I wish I saw the Justin Bieber film instead, which was an option because I only saw Battle: Los Angeles because I was hung-over and just wanted to watch a movie in a dark, air conditioned room with a large soda and huge bucket of popcorn. Considering Battle: Los Angeles and Justin Bieber: Never Say Never were my two choices, I was probably better off watching that little queef prancing around in 3-D – I was just too cheap to pay the few extra dollars.
Here’s the trailer