Sunday, March 13, 2011

Battle: Los Angeles

I became interested in Battle: Los Angeles for several reasons. Director Jonathan Liebesman (The Killing Room) and writer Christopher Bertolini (The General's Daughter) both described the film as Ridley Scott's Black Hawk Down meets Neill Blomkamp's District 9, those being two of my all-time favorite movies. I said "there was no way they could accomplish something that would even look like that." Then came the well-edited teaser and theatrical trailers. I quickly changed my mind about the film as being just a 'pre-summer blockbuster', since my reaction was, "oh, that looks just like Black Hawk Down meets District 9." The trailers made the film look like it would have action-style of Scott's film mixed with the the emotionally wrenching nature of Blomkamp's. Well, the final product sure as hell attempts to have those qualities and although it hits below the mark its creators set for it, it's still not too shabby of a film.

For those who aren't aware, the film (obviously set in Los Angeles, California) follows Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart), a United States marine who is second-in-command of a unit that is placed on the front-lines against an alien invasion. The film takes on the style of grainy images with shaky camera-work. Now, I don't have a problem with that, but it does make me wonder if we'll continue to see such fast-paced editing and cinematography used in mainstream American films and whether or not we'll return to sequences that look more staged.

The film's problems... are numerous. Overall, the characterization is very impersonal. A lot of the actors (Michelle Rodriguez, Bridget Moynahan, Michael Pena, Lucas Till, Ne-Yo, Aisha Tyler, Noel Fisher, Ramon Rodriguez, and others) all try to put on their best game-faces, but they don't do as good a job as Eckhart (and let me go over his phenomenal acting filmography just to remind you how awesome he is- In the Company of Men, Any Given Sunday, Erin Brockovich, Nurse Betty, The Pledge, The Missing, Thank You for Smoking, Towelhead, The Dark Knight, and Rabbit Hole). Even then, there is one scene that is just not that well-written where Nantz recites the names of these marines he let down (the most significant character development in this movie is represented here). The scene unfortunately falls flat, but that's okay, as there are about five other "let me inspire my troops to have faith in me scenes" in the entire film.

Another problem is that both the protagonists and the antagonists aren't that unique. The marines can be told apart by their accents and a few quirks here and there, but the enemy is poorly characterized compared to the Mogadishu villains from Black Hawk Down and the South African government officials in District 9. It also took my eyes a while to get adjusted to the aesthetic of the film. Not to say the special effects varied, but there would be a ton of shots inside a helicopter that look cheap and then we'd go outside to something that is halfway between a matte and a real environment. The action becomes repetitive after a while and the script is full of cliched jargon and dialogue.

So with all of this negative talk, why did I say I enjoyed it? Simply put, the film makes up for its shortcomings with its grand scale. The film takes you through quite an adrenaline ride and the tone that runs throughout the film just keeps you interested (it helps that Brian Tyler did the score, he kicks ass week-in and week-out on the action-procedural remake of Hawaii Five-0 currently on CBS). The movie is full of excitement and it doesn't let up for a second. I'd compare it to recent films from the past two years like Joe Carnhan's The A-Team and Tony Scott's The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, as in that critics are making them out to be a lot worse than they actually are. Yes, the film doesn't live up to its potential, but when all of the elements of the story have already been well-explored in other films, the filmmakers at least make up for that with some fun escapism.

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