Summary Judgement: This movie works in failure like Picasso worked in paint.
Starring: Aaron Eckhart, Michelle Rodriguez and Bridget Moynahan
Written by: Christopher Bertolini
Directed by: Jonathan Liebesman
I don’t know what is going on with science fiction movies lately. First, we have to endure the gong show that was Skyline. Now, Battle Los Angeles plods across the screen, offending common sense and setting back the genre so much that I think Independence Day just qualified for a retroactive Oscar. But what really kills me is that this movie still seems to be finding apologists. I, however, refuse to grant this movie any quarter. To do so would drive us further into a world where even the most average sci-fi flick seems good in comparison to the plethora of flotsam and jetsam permeating popular culture. No sir, the line must be drawn here.
Battle LA has all the intelligence and sophistication of a group of thirteen year olds playing Halo. Of course, that might be over selling things a bit as I have taught many a thirteen year old who would turn their nose up at this movie. The plot, what little there is, deals with a platoon of cliché addled United States Marines and their poorly designed mission to help evacuate the west coast of California in the face of an alien invasion. Naturally, they throw out that plan and instead save the world. From start to finish, there’s a lot of running, more than I would expect from a modern infantry unit, a lot of shooting at things you can’t really see, minutes upon minutes of shaky cam and lots of people getting killed. Indeed, if you go see this movie don’t get too attached to any of the characters because a lot of them are going to die.
Despite this “scintillating” plot, the movie doesn’t work. Why? For the simple reason that Battle LA is firmly grounded in stupidity. In the context of this review, I’ve broken the stupidity into two categories, narrative stupidity and genre/cinematic stupidity. Let’s start with an examination of the latter.
Since Battle LA deals almost exclusively with members of the Marine Corps, it is as much a war movie as it is a sci-fi story. As a war story, Battle LA is content to splash ankle deep in the tropes established by other, more successful, movies. The most obvious and poorly executed gambit therein is the use of a grizzled sergeant and a newbie lieutenant. Unless Bertolini and Liebseman are working under the assumption that nobody in the audience has seen Platoon, everybody knows how the dynamic between Sgt. Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) and Lt. Martinez (Ramon Rodriguez) is going to play out. As a sci-fi movie, Battle LA takes a page right out of Star Trek’s playbook. Presumably, to establish mood and demonstrate the dire reality of the situation, Battle LA’s cup runneth over with dead jarheads. Unfortunately, the whirlwind nature of the story prevents me from establishing any sort of empathy with these characters. The death of a grunt in this movie comes with all the apathy of watching my marines die in a game of Starcraft. Bad camera work rounds out the genre stupidity for this movie. For years now, I’ve tried to figure out the allure of the shaky cam. I know the arguments about heightened reality and putting the viewer in the story, but I still think they are weak sauce excuses to use blurred images and distant shots as a means to get around low production budgets while maintaining the pretence of building atmosphere.
While all of these dreadful tropes played out before my eyes, my ears were treated to a soundtrack that sounded a little too similar to that of Black Hawk Down. Strangely enough, I could have swore that I heard all of the movie’s sound effects in Transformers. Yet to understand the truly pointless nature of this movie we must turn to the premise itself.
Without stupidity acting as narrative mortar, the movie would collapse under the weight of its own idiocy. The trailers for Battle LA tell us that Earth is being invaded for its resources, primarily water. Let’s take a moment to consider that idea; a space faring civilization, most likely from another solar system, is invading Earth for its water. While the hydrogen in water is useful as a fuel for nuclear fusion, it is also the most abundant element in the universe. Logic would suggest they could find hydrogen without invading our planet. Clearly, these invaders are both lazy and stupid. Rather than building a hydrogen ramscoop, the aliens invade in the most resource intensive method imaginable, deploying troops into urban areas.
So rather than take out our satellites, EMP us from orbit and then drop a few rocks on our cities at terminal velocity, they invade with ground forces? What sort of morons give up a position in orbit to engage in urban warfare? Why not fight a land war in Asia while you’re doing stupid things? Furthermore, if they are only after Earth’s resources, then why bother fighting us at all? Why not drop a genetic virus on the planet that will kill all the humans. Surely a species that has the capacity to graft weapons on to their limbs has sufficient mastery over genetics to figure out what will kill humans en masse.
Inevitably, I expect somebody will read this review and say, “Adam, if they did anything that you suggested, there wouldn’t be a movie.” To which I say, when the only thing that holds a movie together is utter and complete stupidity, it doesn’t deserve to be made. Even as a ‘turn my brain off’ action movie, I could not bring myself to ignore such giant plot holes. I’ll even go so far as to reject allegations that this movie is a recruiting tool for the Marine Corps. Honestly, there’s no way real Marines are as ignorant of tactical doctrine as the troopers we see in this movie. Thus, it’s unlikely that a showcase of bad soldiering will fill recruitment quotas. The only thing that felt Marine-ish about this fiasco is the fact that the enlisted men are primarily black and latino.
Other than illustrating Michael Moore’s point about racial minorities in the American military, there’s really nothing good to say about this movie. The script is idiotic. The acting is sub-par; epic speeches to rally the troops wouldn’t motivate me to have a bowel movement, let alone fight aliens. Its special effects are far from special; in fact, they are mostly blurry. Battle LA makes so many other bad movies look good that I just don’t know what to think about the world anymore. Maybe The Time Traveller’s Wife wasn’t that bad after all. Hell, I could probably sit through Battlefield Earth after watching this movie and come up with something positive to say.
Because I don’t think big budget movie making can get much worse, I’m actually going to do it…
Overall Score: -5: the worst possible score I can give.