Director: Jonathan Liebesman
‘Maybe I can help. I’m a veterinarian.’
When the world is attacked by an aggressive alien force, arriving in a freak meteor storm, the army are mobilised to protect and evacuate civilians from the target cities. Marine Sgt. Michael Nantz leads a team through a ravaged L.A. where they discover just how overwhelming the invading force is.
You have to wonder sometimes if there are aliens out there who have thought about coming to planet Earth to say hello but, having taken the time to study out popular culture, decided against the idea because we seem so damn paranoid about them. One cursory glance at Hollywood’s output over the last century would leave any prospective extra-terrestrial tourist expecting to be shot on sight.
Adding to the back catalogue of celluloid ‘Keep Out’ signs is Jonathan Leibesman’s Battle Los Angeles. Coming on like a cross between Platoon and Independence Day, Battle Los Angeles at least has the decency to announce in its title that, although this concerns an invasion of THE WORLD, you ain’t going to see nothing but the City of Angels in this movie. Thank God for fake TV broadcasts to remind us about THE WORLD.
Liebesman doesn’t really have a solid gold CV behind him, although I have to confess to having thoroughly enjoyed his much-maligned debut, the horror movie Darkness Falls. However, this is by far his biggest project to date and he handles the reins, and the almost non-stop carnage, admirably. Battle Los Angeles barely stops for breath once the shorthand character introductions have been made and the nasty aliens have arrived. Reeling from one set-piece to the next, as the ever-shrinking band of marines and civilians try to make it through the war-torn streets of L.A., the movie almost carries enough adrenaline and makes enough noise to distract you from its shortcomings. Almost.
The most obvious of these shortcomings is the script, which is so riddled with lazy, cliché military-movie dialogue as to be a veritable encyclopaedia of it. Just about every tried, tested and worn-out staple of the genre is present and correct, Sir. We have the jaded soldier looking to retire, the soldier about to be married, the idiot soldier that everyone loves, the rookie soldier who can’t handle command and, of course, the alien solider with a bulbous balloon-head and surgically attached weapons. Okay, so maybe that last one is fresher than most. Battle Los Angeles isn’t quite as nauseatingly gung-ho as Independence Day, but it’s not far off. You may find it difficult to resist the urge to either salute or vomit every now and then, depending on your individual temperament.
There is an appealing mystery around the actual invaders which sets the movie above some others in the genre. While we are offered a brief supposition as to why they are here and what they want, it is never really explored beyond a single line. In keeping with the military tone, the plot is uncomplicated. They are here, they aren’t very friendly and we need to kick their asses. ‘Nuff said. The aliens are very rarely seen in any detail. They are the very definition of the faceless enemy (literally).
The performances all-round are equal to the task, but since the task is pretty much to run around shouting and shooting guns, that’s no great feat. But the bottom line is that you don’t watch a movie like Battle Los Angeles for the rich characterisation or subtle social commentary through interweaved storytelling. You watch it for the carnage and you watch it for the headache. Battle Los Angeles satisfies both needs and has some cool looking aliens, too.