It's not a good sign when, at the end of an alien invasion movie, you're disappointed that the aliens have not emerged victorious. But such is the unfortunate case with Battle: Los Angeles, a film populated with human characters so lifeless, so uninteresting, and so painstakingly clichéd that out of pity we wish the aliens would just zap them all and be done with it.

Unfortunately for audiences, the bland characters in Battle do way too much talking, shouting, crying, and faux-emoting, all with much less personality than their alien counterparts, who don't talk at all but look really cool (gooey, nasty little cyborgian death machines).

Battle: Los Angeles is essentially a first-person shooter video game masquerading as a movie. The negligible plot consists of mysterious UFOs that crash into major cities around the world (they're first thought to be an inexplicably coordinated array of meteors) and then hatch hordes of alien warships bent on obliterating everything in sight. A band of marines, led by burnt-out staff sergeant Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart), are tasked with the responsibility of battling to save Los Angeles, which they endeavor to do through a series of gunfights, explosions, and war movie tedium. Along the way the marines pick up a few civilian survivors, including cute little kids and a woman (Bridget Moynahan) who provides a serviceable pseudo love interest to Nantz.

Aaron Eckhart as Sgt. Michael Nantz

Aaron Eckhart as Sgt. Michael Nantz

Directed by Jonathan Liebesman, BLA—a fitting acronym—purports in its marketing materials to be vaguely inspired by an apparently historical event in Los Angeles in 1942 when the military responded to UFOs (thought to be Japanese bombers) hovering above the city. But this is never actually alluded to in the film, nor are there any attempts to explain who the aliens are or what they want (apart from a brief suggestion on a fake-news report that perhaps they want earth's water). No, the film cares little about context and only for the "on the ground" action. It's sort of like The Hurt Locker, except bereft of thrills, tension, artistry, or characters you care about.

Battle: Los Angeles would have actually been more tolerable if it had been non-stop action. Unfortunately, the carnage is periodically interrupted by insufferable "emotional dialogue scenes" where marine rivals have tearful reconciliations, or a civilian child says a tearful goodbye to his dying father. But the acting is atrocious and the script unbearable. The film's only comedy is entirely unintentional, such as the moment when, after a painfully long emotional monologue in which Nantz recounts the traumas and mistakes of his stint in Iraq, he shouts "None of that matters now!" and goes back to battling aliens.

Michelle Rodriguez as Sgt. Elena Santos

Michelle Rodriguez as Sgt. Elena Santos

Meanwhile, the film squanders any chance of making the most of its "Los Angeles" motif. Apart from a few references to Santa Monica landmarks and some establishing shots of downtown, there is little evidence that the filmmakers knew or cared much for the City of Angels, which is odd for a movie all about saving the city from Independence Day-style destruction. Filmed in the "other LA" (Louisiana), Battle gets only one thing right about L.A.: It sets a particularly frenzied battle scene on the Harbor Freeway, which is certainly a familiar sight of "get me out of here!" stress for Los Angelinos. Otherwise, the film's L.A. location is utterly befuddling. Is L.A. the "last stand" of earthlings against the aliens? What's going on in the rest of the world, where aliens have also invaded? We never know.

This is not a film concerned with details or subtlety. Instead, it's a film overflowing with overblown, unimpressive spectacle. Everything about its style is annoying: The jittery, verite camera movement feels ripped off from Friday Night Lights; the music is excruciatingly melodramatic and ceaseless; the acting is alternately bland and nails-on-a-chalkboard shrill, as in Eckhart's hoarse barking of battle orders such as "kill anything that is not human!"

Destruction. Everywhere.

Destruction. Everywhere.

What faint heartbeat the film possesses seems to beat to the drum of patriotism and "Ooh-rah!" Marine fraternity. Insofar as a viewer might care for any of the characters (unlikely), they might root for them to put aside their differences and unite against a common enemy, fighting to protect the innocent and preserve life wherever possible. But BLA is clearly not a film concerned with characters as much as concepts. As in: What if we made "We Were Soldiers meets War of the Worlds?" What if we made a movie that was exactly like a video game?

If Hollywood executives think that videogames-as-movies are the future of cinema, BLA should give them reason to think again. Videogames don't make good movies. They make good videogames.

Talk About It

Discussion starters
  1. How does Nantz redeem himself over the course of the film?
  2. What does this film have to say about the importance of sacrifice?
  3. In what ways does Nantz represent the characteristics of an effective leader?

The Family Corner

For parents to consider

Battle: Los Angeles is rated PG-13 for sustained and intense sequences of war violence and destruction, and language. It's full of violence—gun battles, explosions, burned bodies—though by today's standards it could be a lot more gruesome. There is also a fair share of objectionable language, though it's not over-used given the circumstances of the characters in the film. Battle is geared toward adolescents and videogame fans, but it's too intense for younger children.

Battle: Los Angeles
Our Rating
½ Stars - Poor
Average Rating
(5 user ratings)ADD YOURSHelp
Mpaa Rating
PG-13 (for sustained and intense sequences of war violence and destruction, and language)
Directed By
Jonathan Liebesman
Run Time
1 hour 56 minutes
Aaron Eckhart, Michelle Rodriguez, Bridget Moynahan
Theatre Release
March 11, 2011 by Sony Pictures
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