When George Lucas made Star Wars, he said he was influenced by the Flash Gordon serials of his youth, Arthunian legend and the need to tell a great story. Then there’s Jonathan Liebesman, director of Battle: Los Angeles, who seems to have been influenced by watching too many Michael Bay movies while downing Red Bull.
Aaron Eckhart stars as a war-scarred soldier leading a team of Marines against a massive-scale ambush on the California coast by a swarm of aliens (as in from outer space, not illegal immigrants). This must be at least the fifth cinematic alien attack on Los Angeles over the last 15 years, so you’d think they’d be prepared.
After about five minutes, tops, of setting up the characters, we’re in the middle of some intense, relentless action sequences. Standoffs in abandoned buildings and in the middle of deserted city streets result in close encounters with well-armed and slimy opponents. An inspired touch is not giving us a clear glimpse of the aliens initially, making the blurry footage captured by news teams especially creepy.
It’s all very loud, frantic and heart-pounding initially, until you realize the movie has nowhere else to go. Once a nice couple is rescued (played by Michael Pena and Bridget Moynahan, great actors who aren’t given much to do) and we figure out the aliens’ anatomy, all that’s left are big explosions followed by even bigger explosions.
Eckhart, looking older and nearly Schwarzenegger-buff, isn’t asked to do much more than fire a gun and outrun fireballs, which he does well. Michelle Rodriguez pops up as a tough soldier; she’s such a perfect fit for the role, you wonder if the screenwriter described the character this way: “Elena is strong, Latina, empowered, and…oh, just have Michelle Rodriguez play it!”
OK, I lied. Eckhart does get to do something else: deliver not one, but two inspirational speeches that stop the film cold. Sure it’s a break from the carnage, but even monotonous action is preferable to shallow speechifying.
I won’t spoil the ending, except to say it’s unlikely that any 2011 movie will have a sillier closing line than, “We’re done with breakfast, sir!”
A reported $70 million was spent on this epic, the first of a sure-fire franchise that will no doubt include Battle: Denver, Battle: Walla Walla and, finally, Battle: Makawao Town. Oh, and while we’re talking locations—the film wasn’t even shot in L.A., but rather Louisiana.
If you’re looking for action, you got it. Plot, character, good dialogue and plausibility? We lose, the aliens win.