Hola all. Massawyrm here.
We are living in a golden age of science fiction, my friends. These never last, so enjoy it while it is here. Over the past few short years, we’ve seen a resurgence of stylized filmmaking finding its way into mainstream sci-fi. While filmmakers like Cameron, Abrams and Nolan are treating us to bombastic, big budget, popcorn chomping extravaganzas, directors like the Hughes Brothers, Duncan Jones, Neil Blomkamp, Mark Romanek, John Hillcoat, Yoshihiro Nakamura and Matt Reeves have treated us to more personal - but no less incredible – science fiction tales. BATTLE: LOS ANGELES is a movie that straddles the line between both of these ideals, with a budget too big to be fairly placed with one, but still smaller and with fewer stars than the other. It is a focused film about the struggle of a small group of people caught up in a gargantuan tragedy – but it never soars to summer blockbuster levels of ridiculous spectacle. It sits perfectly in the middle; smart enough for discerning film fans, but accessible enough that it will play to huge, raucous crowds.
This is a film that bowls right up the middle to catch every type of action movie fan together at one time and hits them all with ease. The Xbox generation, the Nascar dads, the film geeks. Everyone. Anyone who has been in the military is bound to feel a kinship with it for its earnest but patriotic portrayal of unit cohesion without ever straying into jingoistic, flag waving sentimentality; I imagine it will be on the shelf or hard drive of every military barracks movie library for the next 20 years. The action is up close, personal, and messy. There are no superheroes, leaping through a hail of bullets and coming down unscathed on the other side; it is a movie in which people that catch one end up screaming and having to be carried around, afraid that they are done for. It is a war movie. With aliens. Not the other way around.
This isn’t INDEPENDENCE DAY; quite the contrary. While it shares a few moments with its predecessor, (and a few bits of iconography), what I love most about this film is how wildly it swings away from the ideas of it. ID4 is borderline space opera, complete with jet pilots who end up in alien aircraft, laser blasters, magical laptops that can infect alien technology with viruses – the whole shebang. BATTLE: LOS ANGELES isn’t only gritty – it is playing in a hard sci-fi universe. There are no force fields, no plasma weapons, and no limitless power supplies. The aliens are fighting a conventional war with real limitations, and they are fighting with a strategy rooted in those limitations. While their technology is certainly far more advanced than ours, they are no more immune to our weapons than a group of marines would be to spears, arrows and stone axes. They’re just better protected and armed than we are and we have to adapt to try and fight them.
And that is what this movie is about. It is the story of a group of marines on the ground, given a mission to extract civilians, only to find themselves caught up in the very worst clusterfuck of their lives. It is more BLACKHAWK DOWN than it is anything else. Once the aliens land, the shit is on and the film only takes a few short breaths to allow you to catch yours before jumping right back into it.
This movie kicks ass. Love it or not, it is never boring even for a second. The special effects are incredible, the creature and technology design a joy to drink in and the action is a white knuckle, teeth clenching treat. Every bit of action here works, pitting desperate men on a suicide mission, with no qualms about ruthlessly thinning the cast as each firefight goes down.
But that is not to say the movie is perfect. It isn’t. It has two flaws - one glaring, and one arguable – that can be fairly leveled against it. The first is the dialog. It’s not great. In fact, there are two scenes that are pretty bad, saved from being excruciating by Aaron Eckhart’s masterful performance. One is the typical scene of exposition - that feels more like a studio note than anything else – telling us about SSgt. Nantz and his background. It is the type of poorly placed filler dialog that has fallen into cliché and is there to make us sympathetic to Nantz and not regard him as a cold, methodical squad leader. The character arc they’ve set up is a classic one – ripped right out of one of my deep fried personal favorites, Robert Wise’s brilliant RUN SILENT, RUN DEEP – in which our protagonist with a shady history is placed into command with a younger, less experienced Officer that the squad trusts implicitly. The way that story arc is supposed to run is that we’re not supposed to know for sure how good a man Nantz is; here they want to know – and director Liebesman makes it work, albeit at the expense of rough introduction.
The second patch of bad dialog stems more from simply one bad line that derails a great speech – again by Eckhart – with the use of the line “But none of that matters anymore.” It’s the stupid kind of transitional line that is meant to segue us from one part of the speech to the next only to kill the entire second half by shitting all over the first. People audibly cackled when it happened. It is easily the low point of the movie.
Fortunately, for every moment of questionable dialog, there are a dozen mind blowing action beats and a handful of great character moments.
The arguable problem here is one of character development. There isn’t much. And the real question is: should there be? It’s a war movie. It’s called BATTLE: LOS ANGELES, not SOUL SEARCHING: LOS ANGELES. It is two solid hours of heart pounding, up close and personal combat meant to drop you smack dab in the middle of a kill or be killed warzone. We’re given just enough exposition for everyone to care about them, but not enough to be able to tell who’s going to bite it before the last reel. One of the problems with war films is that in all but the best, you can pretty much guess who is going to live or die. Show a picture of your girl back home to the Sarge? Bite it. Talk about your plans for when you get back home? Bite it. Too much backstory for someone not the protagonist? Bite it. Not here. Squad members drop like flies, and you’re never really given a chance to think about who is walking away from this, if any of them walk away at all. It is an aspect I love about the film – but if your reasoning for not liking it is a lack of character development, then I can’t argue with you, because there really isn’t much.
But if those things bother you too much in this film, you went in for all the wrong reasons. This is a war movie, pure and simple, and there isn’t a single element of that which falls flat or even underwhelms. Jonathan Liebesman directed the hell out of every action scene in this movie, and sells every major bad ass moment it has. I’m going to see this three or four more times in a theater, big and loud, just as God intended. It’s the kind of film you want to turn around and watch all over again. Enjoy this era of sci-fi while we have it, friends. The studios are bound to fuck it up and kill it soon enough. But for now, we have BATTLE: LOS ANGELES. And that is a very, very good thing. This comes HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Until next time friends, Massawyrm