And you thought it was difficult to get around in L.A. during rush hour! Try getting from Santa Monica to Camp Pendleton with an alien invasion force dogging your every step! That’s the premise of Battle Los Angeles, a reworking of Independence Day from the point of view of the ground troops, rather than the glamour-puss flyboys and the president of the United States.
Battle Los Angeles is all about house-to-house, street-level fighting, and it’s filmed with a tight, over-the-shoulder focus, which means there’s no widescreen epic here; nothing that begs for cinema-sized viewing. Lots of smoke and dust obscure the screen, so the enemy – or, more precisely, their firepower – comes out of the mists suddenly. This is probably as much a budget decision as a creative one; the major expense of this movie had to be fake rubble, because we see little else. The only vast-vista views of the war come at night, when most of the city is obscured by darkness.
The aliens are only seen in all their CGI glory from a distance or very fleetingly up-close. Even a vivisection scene only concentrates on sections of the alien at a time, so it’s difficult to get a fix on what they truly look like, which is disappointing.
Since this story is a grunt’s-eye view of the war, the focus is kept very narrow. The audience only sees/knows what the characters see/know; when they are cut off from communication, so is the audience. The story is about surviving whatever waits around the next corner. And when the battle is joined, the editing and shaky camerawork combine to make the sequence of events very confusing. Everything is a jumble of motion and screaming and loud weapons fire. The interchangeable soldiers in their battle armor make it hard to keep track of what’s happening. I swear I thought several characters got shot, only to have them show up perfectly fine in the next scene.
The biggest name in the cast is Aaron Eckhart (who played Two-Face/Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight), but the only one most people are likely to recognize is Michelle Rodriguez (The Fast and the Furious franchise), who played helicopter pilot Trudy in James Cameron’s Avatar. Aside from Bridget Moynahan and rapper Ne-Yo, the rest of the cast is essential unknown. And all the characters are straight out of a by-the-numbers war movie: the greenhorn lieutenant fresh out of officer-training school who has no idea what real combat is like; the grizzled veteran sergeant who has more experience than he’d like and is dragged into One Last Mission; and the multi-ethnic squad with/without various loved ones back home. There are also cliché civilians, including the plucky pretty gal (Moynahan) and the children, who must be protected no matter how many adults it costs. Eckhart does the best he can as Staff Sgt. Nantz, who is haunted by losing men on his last assignment and Getting Too Old for This Shit, but he won’t let the aliens take over without letting them know they’ve been in a fight. Eckhart essentially uses two looks: slack-jawed wonder and pissed-off determination. The others actors’ faces are pretty much limited to “What the hell have we gotten ourselves into?”
Don’t bother getting yourself into a theater for this one. Wait for Netflix.