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Ever since “The War of the Worlds” adaptation in 1953, the alien invasion flick has become as common as apple pie at Marie Callender’s. “Battle: Los Angeles” is this year’s apocalyptic installment, where the non-earthlings take on Los Angeles — the last oceanside city to fall. Corny dialogue aside, it’s got enough energy for an evening out, but let “Cloverfield” and the other more intelligent monster/alien thrillers make it to your personal collection.
Let’s be clear about something upfront: the plotline doesn’t matter. Aliens are attacking and all we need to know is they mean us harm and they want our world’s natural resources. There’s nothing like a sci-fi film to help us remember all the good things in life we take for granted, like the love of a significant other or the abundance of water around us…even if it’s just L.A. water (just watch the film if this second point doesn’t seem clear).
The only characters of note are Sgt. Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) and Sgt. Elena Santos (Michelle Rodriguez). Everyone else is just a filler character embodying all the classic soldier stereotypes: foreigner who joined up to find a better life, the engaged guy, the shy younger soldier and the new unit leader fresh out of the academy. Quick, name three films that have some variation: “Black Hawk Down”, “We Were Soldiers” and “Pearl Harbor”.
Need a dramatic speech before the troops go off to fight water-based alien invaders? Just look to our man, Eckhart. When things get tough, don’t worry, brothers (and one sister, Rodriguez) in arms stick together. And don’t forget the awkward jokes to cut the “I-don’t-wanna-die” tension.
The aliens themselves are even less original, looking more like Muppet-style replicas of every tentacle-riddled creature we’ve seen before. Here’s the easy way to decipher between aliens: oval-headed green men, good; tentacles mean they’re here to strip-mine the planet.
The plotline is as stock as they come, but that’s not really the point of a film like this. Popcorn entertainment pretends to be food for the soul but don’t be fooled, there’s nothing beneath the surface — only the buttery topping of CGI and really cool weapons.
While these storylines haven’t done anything new since “Independence Day” (and trust me, that’s not saying much for the definition of memorable or unique), there’s a sense of creativity in the look of the invaders’ ships and weapons. Let’s not forget that each invasion film offers a new array of ways to beat those nasty unbeatable odds. Finally, don’t forget to bask in the visceral thrills of watching Santa Monica and downtown L.A. under attack.
When they get on the 405 Freeway at around 5 p.m., it’s no wonder they have trouble going six miles in 20 minutes — even if most of the city has been evacuated. We all know the drill: side streets until 8 p.m.
For all it’s predictabilities, at least “Battle: LA” keeps the tension high. Character development is minimal (any more would just be out of place here), and when the first gun shots/laser beams fly, what follows is a series of relentless action sequences that only let up for the occasional character heart-to-heart.
Luckily, they’re usually interrupted by the next wave. Rather than following unsuspecting L.A. locals, stick with one army unit and never leave their side. If the tide changes or something new happens, we don’t hear about it through a jump cut to the other side of town in the middle of the green zone; we’re just as isolated as the characters.
As for the action, director, Jonathan Liebesman, brings some of his background in horror (“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning”) to the streets of L.A. The final product is pretty exhausting. It almost makes up for the parts of the film when characters aren’t running for their lives.
It’s nice to see Los Angeles get some action since New York normally has all the best monsters. When your most iconic piece of architecture is the Hollywood sign, it’s little wonder other metropolitan areas get more screen time. Still, L.A. has the highest cinematic fight scene quota and it’s about time a film comes around and actually names the city, rather than using it as a more “generic” locale.
“Battle: Los Angeles” isn’t nearly as bad as other critics claim it is, but it’s definitely a forgettable piece of reel. More than any other end-of-days movie, we can at least get to see what this would look like in our backyard, Los Angeles, and that curiosity could be enough to justify one viewing.
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