Tuesday, March 15, 2011


I want to start off this review of Battle: Los Angles by stating that I am a genre fan! I watch movies outside of my three favorites genres – read the blog description under the blog title if you don’t know what those are – but I will always watch any theatrical release of my three favorite genres, at the very least, when they become available for rent on blu-ay. I am not a professional film critic, so I have limited time and financial resources that force me to choose the genre films that I see at the theater carefully. For the past decade or so, there seems to be a dearth of true science fiction films and a plethora of fantasy and horror films, so I tend to favor going to a science fiction film over the other two genres.

I went into Battle: Los Angeles knowing only two things about the plot: It was about an alien invasion of Earth and it was from the point of view of a platoon of Marines who are at the frontline of the defense of Los Angeles. The only film by director Jonathan Liebesman that I had seen was the mediocre horror film Darkness Falls (2003), so I didn’t have that as incentive to feel positive about the film. The star Aaron Eckhart I had seen in a few films like The Dark Knight (2007) and Paycheck (2003), but he never really stood out to me as a leading man type. The supporting male cast is made up of mostly unfamiliar names, but the two female co-stars were somewhat familiar to me as a genre fan: Michelle Rodriguez I liked from Resident Evil (2002) and Avatar (2009) and Bridget Moynahan I felt neutral about from I, Robot (2004). I always try to temper my expectations for any film, but the more positive the foreknowledge I have before shelling out my six bucks for the matinee showing at my local theater the more likely I will enjoy a film. Conversely, the more negative information I have before viewing a film makes it more challenging to view a film positively. With the plethora of information that is available now on the Internet before a film is even released, it takes a certain amount of restraint to gather enough background on a film to make a decision on whether to see it or not, but not so much as to take away from the surprises that the film may have in store. When the quantity of information is minimal prior to its release, as was the case with Battle: Los Angeles, it sometimes indicates a lack of confidence in a film from the production company. Still, I tried to keep an open mind.

Battle: Los Angeles starts off with a flash forward to the initial destruction of L. A., as a way of jolting the audience with the anticipated violence. The movie quickly reverts to twenty-four hours prior to that and sets up our cast of characters that we’ll be following for the rest of the film. We’re introduced to Staff Sargent Michael Nantz, who is resigning after 20 years in the Marines because of a tragedy that befell him on his last mission. Before his retirement is finalized, alien machines fall to Earth into the ocean along the coastline of several major cities including Los Angeles and Nantz is assigned to a new platoon of Marines to help hold the line. Nantz must not only deal with an unknown enemy, but a young Lieutenant William Martinez, who has been given this assignment as his first command. Nantz’s platoon is ordered to a local police station, where a group of civilians have been reported to be hiding out from the initial invasion of the alien troops. The aliens have formed a beach head and are deploying groups of armed and armored troops, who are killing both military and civilians alike. The military have decided to form a line of defense just behind the beach head, but for only as long as it takes them to commit an air strike that they hope will cause them to retreat. This only gives Nantz’ platoon twelve hours to find the civilians and get them to safety.

All of the above action takes place in the first twenty minutes of Battle: Los Angeles, so you have some idea of the pacing of the film. There are almost no “time outs” in the course of the action, as most of the film is concerned with the Marines fighting through increasingly more hostile alien forces, all while protecting their civilian charges. I can honestly say that I found the brisk pace consistent with combat situational sequences and didn’t have a problem with the minimalist approach to characterization. The characters for the most part serve as drivers of the plot, which in turn fulfills the film’s ultimate goal: which is to demonstrate humanity’s ability to rise above even the most impossible of circumstances and through perseverance and cooperation accomplish a smaller task that leads to a greater good. Battle: Los Angeles is foremost a war movie and a pro-military one at that. This film is less about the aliens and their advanced technology and more about human beings and their tenacity, inner-strength and a duty to a greater good.

Technically Battle: Los Angeles is amazing! From the opening sequences of the comet-like ships hurtling into the ocean, to the individual alien soldiers with their armored shells and advanced projectile weapons; it all looks sufficiently futuristic, yet still realistic. I liked the way the film slowly revealed the various types of weapons and vehicles and how their revelation became crucial to the plot. The only complaint that I have with the aliens, is the one that I always have and that is why do aliens always seem to be humanoid? In a film with a major motion picture budget, the aliens could have looked like anything, yet they have one head, two arms and two legs. One thing that I did like was that the aliens were not furnished with a “force field”, which allowed the human weapons a chance to at least cause the aliens some damage. This created the more combat type of action that I’m sure the filmmakers were aiming for.

Is Battle: Los Angeles a good science fiction film? Maybe, because they use the aliens more as an symbol for an enormous catastrophe that humanity must overcome: such as depleted energy and resources and the declining world economy. But its main focus is on the human element, despite all the external visual devices and it still comes off as more of a contemporary war story. Let me say that Battle: Los Angeles is a mash-up of the SF and War genres and it does a good job of representing both. Best of all, this film doesn’t have the feel of a “tent-pole” movie in that it actually comes to a satisfying conclusion, while still allowing for the possibility of a sequel. I recommend Battle: Los Angeles to fans of war films first, science fiction films second and I don’t recommend it to anyone who objects to a militant perspective. I personally liked Battle: Los Angeles despite my favoring a more pacifist lifestyle, because it did a decent job of justifying the difficult decisions that are made in the heat of combat, while still demonstrating the atrocities of war. See Battle: Los Angeles and decide for yourself.


  1. Hello Doc!
    Yours is one of the few genuinely fair assessments. I always appreciate your perspective and welcomed reading your fine look at the picture.

    Would it qualify as better than Skyline? It looks better.

    I couldn't help but think this might be the kind of thing that would work as a sequel to District 9, but we'd need a lot more character than you describe. Cheers my friend. SFF

  2. Thanks for the words of support, Sci-Fi Fanatic!

    I fear my admiration for the potential of Skyline made my review of it sound better than I actually thought it was. I’ll be very clear: I did not like Skyline. I liked aspects of it and the science fictional concepts behind its amazing special effects, but it was overall not a good film.

    Battle: Los Angeles, on the other hand, is a very good film overall. It presents a much more interesting story than Skyline; especially from the human point of view. I intentionally didn’t compare B:LA to Skyline or any other SF movie, because I don’t think it helps to judge the quality of the movie being reviewed. I think film critics use the comparison technique as shortcut and I think it’s just plain lazy. The only time a comparison works is on remakes. Unfortunately, most remakes usually suffer by comparison to the original.

    Back to my original point: Battle: Los Angeles works because it gives us believable characters participating in a familiar conflict that comes to a satisfying conclusion. If B:LA has a fault is that it underplays the alien-ness of the invaders, which is why I think it works better as a war film than a science fiction film. Still, there is plenty of alien technology to interest SF fans and the aliens themselves are at least partially explored.

    I don’t quite understand your idea of a sequel to District 9. The aliens and their ship were stranded on Earth and not there to conquer it; although that’s not made completely clear at the end of the film. As far as character is concerned, I don’t think anyone other than Wikus was fully developed. The “Prawns” as a race were well realized, but no single alien character was individually developed.

    Critics and people in general, always complain that science fiction films - particularly ones that rely on physical action to propel the plot – don’t spend enough time developing the characters. Without an interesting plot, the most fully realized characters in the world can’t make a film interesting.

    I hope you’ll continue to comment on my SF film reviews, Sci-Fi Fanatic, because I really enjoy the parlay we have about our favorite subject!

  3. Doc.

    I loved your points about comparisons. I agree. I'm glad you don't take that tact. The Comments section is always a great place for that type of conversation.

    I mean some comparisons are certainly fine and worthwhile and historical context is always important, but writing comparing to Skyline simply because it was released around the same time is nothing more than easy and lazy. I'm sure there were plenty of references in the magazines.

    SO, my apology. I may not have articulated my District 9 point well.

    At the end of the film it seemed like the aliens might return for Wikus and open up a can of whoopass on Earth. I haven't seen Battle so my feeling on this may be misguided.

    I too agree Wikus was the best developed character, the true heart of the film. But the film did a nice job of establishing an emotional connection to the prawn friend. That's rare and I appreciated the film that much more for what Blomkamp achieved there.

    Enjoy the conversations as always too Doc! Thank you. Take care, SFF.

  4. Saw it over the weekend. Thoughts forthcoming. Nothing as extensive as your own, but I think your call on it was pretty damn accurate. Nicely done!

  5. Sci-Fi Fanatic:

    In regards to your comments on District 9: I’ve only seen it the one time at the theater way back in August of 2009, so any details of it I have are sketchy. As you mentioned, I do seem to recall that Wikis was quite friendly with one Prawn in particular.

    I’m glad you liked and mostly shared my opinions regarding comparing films as a shortcut to reviewing. I can’t tell you how many reviews I read that compared Battle: Los Angeles unfavorably to Independence Day. Other than the fact that they are both global alien invasion films, they share little else in common.

    I’m glad you got a chance to see Battle: Los Angeles at the theater, so that you could decide for yourself whether it is a worthy addition to the Alien Invasion SF genre or not. I hope by “thoughts forthcoming” you mean that you will be posting one of your long and insightful reviews on your own blog Musings of a Sci-Fi Fanatic soon. I’m looking forward to reading that as always.

  6. My friend, and I'm not sure where you stand on this, but I actually prefer Battle: LA over Independence Day. I wasn't a big fan of that film, though character development might have bee a but better there. That's another interesting topic, but I agree, the two have nothing in common really. Battle: LA has that going for it.

  7. To me this was more a war movie then a sci-fi one, because like you mentioned, it focuses more on the humans and the batallion of soldiers we follow. I would have prefered more alien action me-self.

    By the way, Skyline was a cool movie in my book, I need to review that one! But I remember enjoying it a whole lot, in fact, I might have enjoyed it a bit more then this one actually, because it is more sci-fi.

  8. I agree with you, Francisco, that Battle: Los Angeles should have shown more of the aliens than they did for it to qualify as a true science fiction movie. We get to see quite a lot of their technology, but very little of the aliens themselves. The alien soldiers are little more than faceless armored drones; with no individual qualities demonstrated. The ending of the film definitely sets up for a sequel, so hopefully we’ll get more information on the aliens’ culture and their reasons for invading Earth in the next film.

    You are definitely in the minority in your enjoyment of Skyline. Although I thought it was an interesting concept in regards to the aliens themselves; the dull POV human characters didn’t draw me into the film as much as it might have.