By: Roxana Hadadi
Our perception of aliens confuses me. How can they be so technologically advanced, but in such dire need of natural resources? Only in “Avatar” have we really seen aliens that have protected and cared for their world – in others, like “Signs” and the latest big-budget aliens-as-baddies flick, “Battle: Los Angeles,” the extraterrestrials just can’t seem to get their lives together.
They want our water, our land – and they don’t want us. But you should want “Battle: Los Angeles,” if only because it has enough explosions, gross aliens and gunfire to almost make you think it’s summertime. Those hot, humid months are the ones best suited for these kinds of escapist fantasies, and it’s weird that “Battle: Los Angeles” is being released now and not then. But no matter! We love to see humans prevail over interlopers, and with “Battle: Los Angeles,” you’ll get exactly what you want.
The film can be described best as a kind of anti-“Avatar” – James Cameron’s 2009 film painted Pandora’s aliens as environmentalist, tree-hugging good guys, while the Marines sent to that planet were brutal hired guns uncaring toward the country’s beauty and the natives’ lives. “Battle: Los Angeles” flips that script and returns to a more familiar idea of our possible interactions with alien life, in that they’re bad and we’re good. It’s like in “Independence Day” – welcome to Earth, you’re going to get your butt kicked. That’s exactly what the humans try to do in “Battle: Los Angeles,” in which aliens descend upon Earth and try to eliminate the human race.
They come undercover: Humans at first think meteor showers are descending upon the planet, and cities like Los Angeles brace for impact. But soon they realize that meteors don’t actually come alive and try to attack you – instead, those are ships full of genocidal extraterrestrials. As the world begins mobilizing against this threat, Los Angeles comes under the power of the Marines. With various groups of Marines sent to retrieve civilians, Staff Sgt. Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart), who recently turned in his resignation forms, gets pulled back into the fold. Paired with 2nd Lt. William Martinez (Ramon Rodriguez), Nantz is tasked with venturing into the Los Angeles suburbs, finding those survivors and bringing them back to safety before the U.S. military drops bombs on the aliens.
But three hours isn’t that much time when the roads are filled with smoke and abandoned cars, and when Martinez, Nantz and their fellow Marines have no idea what they’re facing. And it’s certainly treacherous: the aliens have weapons grafted into their bones, seemingly can’t die and are everywhere. How Nantz figures out a way to work with the other Marines – who don’t trust him because of his previous mission, in which a bad decision got a few of his men killed – will determine whether they can end up saving humankind from a ruthless threat. “Battle: Los Angeles” is inspired by the Battle of Los Angeles, a rumored attack on the city during World War II, and takes cues from films like “Black Hawk Down,” which showed a region descending into chaos.
In that 2001 film, directed by Ridley Scott and based on the book by Mark Bowden, we were shocked by the events that occurred during the Battle of Mogadishu, disgusted by what people could do to other people. If you saw “Black Hawk Down,” you can’t forget the queasy, revolted, violated way it made you feel – and though “Battle: Los Angeles” tries to make us feel the same way, it’s ultimately a movie with faceless, goofy aliens. They look like miniature Transformers mixed with bobble-heads, just bulbous masses of gelatin and mechanical parts. They don’t inspire fear; the threat of what they can do to us isn’t that dire. There’s tension, but there isn’t any danger. So in that sense, “Battle: Los Angeles” is a pretty perfect brainless movie.
Eckhart brings fire and dedication to his role as a conflicted man battling his own age and the haunting memories of his previous decisions, but Nantz isn’t a complex character – the only development we’re given is that he’s committed to the mission and to his men. His inspirational speeches toward the end rely only on that characterization, so they end up seeming like poor “Spartacus” substitutes. The other characters are young and basically all doomed; the only one who displays real growth is Lance Cpl. Peter Kerns, portrayed by Jim Parrack as a soldier plagued by PTSD who yearns to step up to defend his world. Michelle Rodriguez, as Air Force Technical Sgt. Elena Santos, is reliable as well, but if you saw her in “Avatar,” this role is the same old.
You don’t have to think too much to enjoy “Battle: Los Angeles,” though, which means older teens could see it alone or with parents, since it is rated PG-13. The film uses a shaky camera style to create a documentary-like flair; there are also lots of explosions and sweeping shots of Los Angeles under siege. Teens should be able to handle a lot of this: There’s cursing but only one instance of the f-word, and lots of violence, but not too much of it is gory or graphic. The only nauseating scene is an alien autopsy, with lots of gushing goo coming out of the subject. Otherwise, it’s a pretty standard war movie. And that’s the thing: everything about “Battle: Los Angeles” is typical. Though it doesn’t recreate the sci-fi genre, it delivers on the standards – and until the summer blockbusters come along, this will do just fine.