Battle: Los Angeles
is a surprisingly good war story. I say surprising because even though it’s about extra-terrestrials invading Earth, it plays out like any story of a few brave soldiers fighting an overwhelming force. It certainly shares some similarities with Independence Day
, but it is a much grittier film with a more serious tone. It has all the stock characters of the war story genre: the hard-boiled, war-weary sergeant; the inexperienced lieutenant who wants to prove himself in battle; the young, naïve boy who can’t hold his liquor and has never had a girl; the soldier who has a grudge against the sergeant because his brother was killed in combat with the sergeant’s unit ; the soldier from New Jersey who knows how to hot-wire cars – well, you get the picture. Yes, the dialogue is sprinkled with clichés and the movie could serve a recruiting tool for the U.S. Marine Corps, but it’s an unrelentingly action-packed, compelling film.
The success of the film rests on the competent shoulders of Aaron Eckhart (THE DARK KNIGHT) who plays battle-tested Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz. He’s earned decorations for courage under fire, but he carries a load of guilt about the members of his unit who didn’t survive. He has just filed his papers for retirement when the attack begins. At first, the attackers are a mystery, but even when the soldiers find out that they’re extra-terrestrials, they take it in stride and fight them as they would any enemy. Of course, Sgt. Nantz will be tested in battle again, and the soldiers that didn’t “get” him will come to admire him. His unit, under the command of 2nd Lt. William Martinez (Ramon Rodriguez) is sent to rescue and evacuate a small group of civilians who are trapped in a bombing zone. The civilians include Michele (Bridget Moynahan), a veterinarian with her two nieces, and Mr. Rincon (Michael Pena) and his son Hector (Bryce Cass). As they try to make their way through the chaos and destruction, they find almost no other survivors, but they do pick up lone Air Force Technical Sgt. Elena Santos (Michelle Rodriguez). Rodriguez has been the go-to tough girl in a number of films, such as Avatar, and she does finally get to kick some a** in this one as she learns the “Marine way” of doing things.
The strength of the narrative lies in the logical, problem-solving approach the small band of soldiers takes in looking for the weaknesses in their seemingly invincible enemies, and then developing strategy for taking them out. Sure, the odds are overwhelmingly against them, but they’re the “Retreat? Hell!” squadron and do not regard failure as an option. All of the actors do credible jobs, but it’s Eckhart’s unwavering and focused performance that holds the story together. This film is intense and loud; it’s not for children. The special effects are well-done, and the aliens and their various crafts and vehicles seem perfectly plausible. There’s some, but not much, humor in the story, and thankfully, there’s no gratuitous romance. They’re there to make war – not love. Of course, there are casualties, but there’s a satisfying number of survivors, too. The film ends logically – Marines don’t give up.