Battle: Los Angeles

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C-

I am sure it seemed like a “can’t miss” idea — combining Blackhawk Down with Independence Day, it’ll be the ultimate war/adventure movie/spectacle. If I was in the room at the time, I probably would have agreed with it as a concept. But in practice, sadly, it doesn’t work. Not even a little bit.

Independence Day is a fun movie. It has action, but with that comes charisma and, for as catastrophic as things get on screen, it never takes itself too seriously. The protagonists are more cowboy-heroes than war-heroes. They crack jokes, issue one-liners and when they martyr themselves, we give a crap, because we’ve grown to like these guys.

Black Hawk Down is intense. It’s riveting and we care about each and every one of those men in the platoon. We know this actually happened. We think about what it would be like if we were down in the trenches, fighting and dying. It scares the shit out of us, and we’re emotionally invested in the outcome.

We are connected with the characters in these two films for very different reasons. These two movies aren’t just apples and oranges; they’re like gasoline and oatmeal. Combining the two isn’t a good idea.

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Battle: Los Angeles starts out with a very quick rundown of all the major and supporting characters. We see quick, clichéd glimpses into the personal lives of each character, with the main focus and attention on “soon to be retiring” Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhardt). As for the rest, their lives and names are soon forgotten. But we’re expected to “fall in like” with them from these snapshots.

Soon after we learn that the comets hitting the shores of our planet are chock full of weapons-for-arms-aliens, Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz is told that he’s to put the ole retirement on the back burner. There are some civilians stranded at a police station who need rescuing before the Air Force carpet bombs the entire city of LA to exterminate our E.T. pals. OK, sounds good. Let’s go.

But pretty quickly, I started asking, “Who are these people?” I couldn’t remember their faces or their names from the beginning of the movie. I didn’t care when they got blown up, and I couldn’t emotionally connect to a movie that takes itself so seriously, yet is grounded so heavily in fantasy. It wants to be a gut-wrenching war movie, but the whole time we are quick to remind ourselves, “Yeah, but it’s aliens…not Vietnam.”

The dialogue is extremely flaccid; it flops from the actors’ mouths like droopy, leftover pancakes. Most of the time, I felt like I was watching a marine recruitment video. Not that it was intentional, but the conversations are so, “This is our mission, we must be strong and tough despite these overpowering odds,” which in the context of an actual war movie is patriotic and courageous, but here it feels campy.

I won’t spoil the look of the aliens for you, partly because I never got a good look myself, thanks to the doddery camera work, but mostly because I don’t want to steal away your disappointment. The photography is authentic; it feels and looks like every other real battle portrayed on screen — loud, louder and loudest. You have to give credit to the CGI crew, though, as the aliens are seamlessly rendered within the live-action. The explosions are plentiful and the guns large. The problem is, I just didn’t care. The scenes that are supposed to tug at the heart felt plodding. I just wanted it all to end.

Some of you might enjoy it. The three people I attended the film with seemed to have a positive opinion when they exited. Maybe I wanted too much out of it, maybe I expected something more. I went in hoping it was what it looked like in the trailer: A movie that realistically portrays what an alien invasion might feel like if it happened tomorrow. But it turns out maybe it was an idea that needed a little more refining and a little less rehashing.

tags: aaron eckhart, battle: los angeles, Jonathan Liebesman, michael pena, michelle rodriguez

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