Today I watched Jonathan Liebesman’s Battle: Los Angeles (2011)
One of the foundation stones of military sci fi is the alien invasion story which stretches back to the beginnings of the genre. In Battle: Los Angeles the human soldiers are soldiers of today, modern American marines pitted against a cosmic foe. In the film’s contemporary setting, the space organizations of the world are surprised by the appearance of a massive meteor shower that will hit the Earth’s oceans. But this is no normal astral phenomena as the objects decelerate before landing, they are in fact the vessels of an alien invasion. Aaron Eckhart is Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz, a veteran of the Iraq war who has a reputation for losing men, he is about to resign from the armed forces when the invasion happens. With all hands on deck he finds himself back on the field, facing an enemy he could never have imagined.
While fans of military sci fi can appreciate deep themes and social satire like any other fiction aficionado, one of the selling points of the genre is simple verisimilitude, what is it like to be on that field of battle unlike any we have seen before? What technology is present and how does that change the tactical decisions of the soldiers on the ground? This film abandons any higher minded artistry to pursue these types of simple questions, and for the most part does a quality job. The style is chaotic and kinetic, disorienting camera movement and endless explosions put you right in the middle of the action. The aliens are also intriguingly low tech, advanced beyond human capabilities certainly, but understandable in their methods of engagement. That being said, the film is not entirely successful at presenting realism, the story is just a tad too Hollywood for the film’s own good, the enemy needs an Achilles Heel that is just a little ridiculous. The thrilling heroics of the final act are also just one step over the top in a film that had up until that point been an unflinchingly brutal one.
The film still manages to maintain enough immersion to make the combat consistently thrilling and impactful, held up by some cool designs and solid special effects. Beyond that, Aaron Eckhart is a perfectly good reason to watch this movie as well, I have always found him to be quite charismatic and effective as an actor. Despite always recognizing him, I can easily put him in the shoes of his characters and this film is no different, he plays the perhaps over capable officer as someone real and tangible, an every man despite his military-centric portrayal.
In the end, Battle: Los Angeles may not maintain a perfect veneer of sci fi military realism and the tactics of the aliens may not hold up to scrutiny, but in the moment it is a fun ride. It’s big and loud and makes some smart decisions to focus on the small scale squad combat instead of saving the world. The big damn hero moments may come across like Starship Troopers played strait, but the film wisely avoids leaning into any political connotations, this is an unreal situation and the film makers seem wholly aware of that in how they approach, or more correctly, do not approach any deeper themes. The film is just about soldiers fighting a battle against space men, pure B-movie content somewhat elevated by smart direction that keeps things intimate and solid effects that makes that intimacy seem epic. 4/5