If you like your Marine recruiting films dressed up with sci-fi action and lots of ’splosions, you’re going to love “Battle: Los Angeles.”
Don’t get me wrong—“Battle: LA” is a guilty geek pleasure that will have military aficionados either salivating or jotting down inaccuracies to blog about later. However, its genius marketing campaign belies the picture’s stark, simplistic script.
A cross between “Black Hawk Down” and “War of the World,” “Battle: LA” follows a Marine battalion engaging in urban warfare with evil ETs during a mission to rescue trapped civilians. Although director Jonathan Liebesman attempts an alien-invasion tale with a global scale, the focus on the survival of one unit – the Second Battalion, Fifth Marine – dooms the picture to a narrative scope more befitting a first-person shooter, like “Call of Duty.”
Without as much as a “We come in peace” (a la “Mars Attacks!”) the squid-like invaders in body armor begin a genocidal campaign to rid the planet of its pesky humans (why? to steal our water, of course). Cities around the globe are falling to the aliens, and the 2/5 out of Camp Pendleton is deployed to Los Angeles, pulling just-retired Staff Sgt. Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) along for the ride. This doesn’t sit well with the young troops, who blame Nantz for the deaths of servicemen during an Iraq deployment. We get minimal backstories on the 2/5 Marines – one is expecting a baby, another is getting married, one had a brother killed under Nantz’s command – before the body count begins. Along the way, the dwindling platoon picks up civilian survivors (Bridget Moynahan, Michael Peña), straggler Marines and Air Force Tech Sgt. Elena Santos (Michelle Rodriguez), whose information could help provide Earth’s forces with the edge it needs to repel the invaders.
Marine camaraderie and the technical aspects of warfare holds “Battle: LA” together. But this leaves viewers with a jerky, bleak combat film without a larger message. (What happened to epic film the trailers promised?!)
After prolonged claustrophobic skirmishes – including a nod to Ripley taking command of the armored personnel carrier in “Aliens” – the cliché ending comes a little too fast, too furious.
And while the film could have used some “Independence Day” levity (apart from the unintentional humor), this macho apocalyptic ride does manage to pack in more than enough action for fanboys weaned on Michael Bay and XBox to make up for some of its deficits.