“Battle: Los Angeles” is a war movie, pure and simple. It features virtually every convention of the genre and cribs from the battalions of war movies that came before; everything from “The Sands of Iwo Jima” to “Saving Private Ryan.”
Let’s break out the war-movie checklist of familiarity, shall we? We follow a small, rag-tag unit of marines who make great sacrifices and overcome tremendous odds to win the day. Check.
We have the grizzled, battle-scarred veteran thrown in with a young group of soldiers he’s never met before. Check.
We have uber-green, young officer, fresh from the academy leading soldiers into battle for the first time. Check.
We have the jumpy private who likely won’t make it past the second reel. Check.
Alien invaders from outer space. Um. Hm. John Wayne never said anything about aliens. OK, so maybe extraterrestrials aren’t a part of the conventional war-movie formula, but don’t tell that to “Battle: Los Angeles.”
The best off-the-cuff description of this movie is to say that it is “Black Hawk Down” meets “Independence Day.” As far as war movies go, it is conventional to the point of being cliché, but by introducing the sci-fi element to the proceedings, believability kinda gets thrown out the window leaving you to only worry about the action, which “Battle: Los Angeles” has in spades.
The story is fairly straightforward. Aaron Eckhart stars as Michael Nantz a staff sergeant on the brink of retirement after several decorated tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mysterious meteors begin falling into the oceans of the world outside of major population centers and Nantz gets thrown in with a new unit when it becomes clear the aliens on board aren’t here for Reese’s Pieces or Richard Dreyfuss.
Nantz and his marines are tasked with clearing a portion of Santa Monica of civilians before the air force bombs the invading aliens to kingdom come. Naturally the aliens prove to be a little more formidable than anyone expected.
Director Jonathan Liebesman knows his war movies and knows how to keep the focus of the movie on the soldiers themselves. He’s a little shakier when it comes to originality, the special effects and the battle sequences, which while impressive, occasionally lack clarity and threaten to leave the audience lost in the fog of war.
In the end there is not a lot here for anyone but genre fans. Hardcore sci-fi fans may be a little disappointed too, as the aliens themselves aren’t the direct focus of the movie. I’m still not even entirely sure what they looked like, other than that they were tall and had heads that looked like the wheel well of a ’57 Chevy.
But people who like gritty war movies or people who just like watching stuff explode will be more than happy as “Battle: Los Angeles” leaves you feeling charged up and ready to go. In fact, if the Marine Corps was smart they’d have a recruiter standing outside every theater in the country where this movie is playing, and maybe leave out the fact that we aren’t currently at war with the crab nebula. Hoo-rah!
“Battle: Los Angeles” is rated PG-13 for sustained and intense sequences of war violence and destruction, and for language.