Attack on the senses – Battle Los Angeles review

Battle Los Angeles – Starring Aaron Eckhart, Michelle Rodriguez and Ramon Rodriguez. Directed by Jonathan Liebesman. Rated M. By Simon Miraudo.

Michael Bay and Tony Scott made love to the American flag, birthed a demon spawn and called it Battle Los Angeles. Ladies and gentlemen, I present you with a new landmark in the “loud, dumb, aggressively bad action blockbuster” genre. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen has well and truly been usurped. Of course, not to be outdone, Bay will unleash the third Transformers film in a couple of months, so Battle L.A.’s reign may be short-lived. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. William Henry Harrison may have only been President of the United States for 32 days, but he was still the president. And Jonathan Liebesman’s Battle L.A. is still awful, and will remain awful, no matter how many louder, dumber films come along in the coming years.

Now, we can’t talk about Battle L.A. without talking about Aristotle’s principles of storytelling (obviously). Aristotle separated all narratives into two streams: those with simple plots, and those with complex plots. The mechanics of a simple plot are just that; a sequence of probable actions (cause and effect) that conclude with a change in fortune. And that is the plot of Battle L.A: aliens invade Earth; a final battle for dominance occurs in Los Angeles; a ragtag group of marines led by Aaron Eckhart go against the odds to stop the influx of extra terrestrial invaders. So far so good. I guess Aristotle was a fan of popcorn flicks after all. But Ari also went to great lengths to stress the importance of a three-act structure in drama. And this is where Battle L.A. falls apart, because where there should be a ‘beginning’, ‘middle’ and ‘end’, Liebesman substitutes in ‘NOISE!!!’

This is not an exaggeration. I know that using more than one exclamation mark to emphasise a word can often have the opposite effect, simply becoming an annoyance that doesn’t mean anything. Well, that is what Battle L.A. is!!!!!!!! A deafening, exclamation-mark-heavy blurt of poorly-defined sound-design. There are special effects too (I think), hidden in a fog of black smoke/dust/dirt, expertly avoided by a cinematographer (Lukas Ettlin, named and shamed) who must have been straddling a bucking bronco for the film’s entire shoot. When we finally see the alien invaders, we fully understand why they had been obscured from our view in the first place. I saw a similar-looking alien in a movie once, except it wasn’t a movie, it was the video game Duke Nukem 3D, and I was eight years old, and I didn’t think they were creepy or interesting then either. Maybe that’s fitting, because watching Battle LA is like watching your friend play a video game on the Sega Mega Drive. And I mean these days, not 13 years ago.

“But Simon, what of the script? Who cares if screenwriter Christopher Bertolini was unable to adhere to Aristotle’s three act principle? Some of the greatest screenplays ever written have defied it too! Did Bertolini make up for it with interesting, complex characters and human, naturalistic dialogue?” Well, I was about to start talking about that before you interrupted me, so you’ve embarrassed yourself. To answer those questions: 1) It’s bad. 2) That’s true. 3) Absolutely not. Here are some of the clichéd-to-the-point-of-inane lines shouted by the film’s central marine force: “I will go to hell and back with you sir.” “We leave no man behind.” “Marines don’t quit. Say it for me. Marines don’t quit!” You could write your own script based on variations of those three lines, and you’d pretty much have a word-for-word facsimile of the current screenplay. There are also a couple of lines that simply baffle: “Maybe I can help. I’m a veterinarian.” That’s got to be the first time that’s been said with a straight face in an action film.

The characters are introduced in the film’s first ten (relatively un-explodey) minutes. They are dispatched, almost without rhyme or reason, over the course of the next ninety. A commentary on the random cruelty of war? I wouldn’t give the picture that much credit. I guess Bertolini and Liebesman think they have to feature scenes in which a soldier kisses his pregnant wife goodbye and another where one prepares a wedding, as if Hollywood wouldn’t fund a war movie without them. And this is absolutely not an anti-war movie. The film is brimming with jingoistic pride; kind of like Starship Troopers without the self-awareness. At one point, a civilian picks up a gun and shoots at the aliens, only to be demolished almost instantly. Eckhart – who plays the staff sergeant, as if that matters – says, “He picked up a rifle and did what need to be done”. Later, someone suggests trying for a diplomatic solution with the aliens. Everyone laughs. No, this is definitely a pro-war film.

Actors such as Michelle Rodriguez, Ramon Rodriguez, Ne-Yo, Jim Parrack and a bunch of others were credited as the soldiers, but whichever ones they played I couldn’t tell past the film’s intro – such is the overwhelming amount of confusion and blurriness of the movie. I feel bad for all of them, and especially the normally great Eckhart, for having to debase themselves here. But I certainly don’t pity them over the audience that has to endure this blinding mess (including my girlfriend, who was so annoyed and unsettled by the shakycam work she threw up – in the cinema – halfway through the film).

Oh, and in case you were wondering, the aliens have invaded Earth because they want our liquid H20. They use it for their fuel. So, at the very least, that makes them a bit harder and more intimidating than the aliens in M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs. In your face, you water-fearing, spindly-armed, easy-to-trap-in-a-cupboard lesser-terrestrials!


Check out Simon’s other reviews here.

Battle Los Angeles is now showing across Australia.

3 Responses to “Attack on the senses – Battle Los Angeles review”

  1. >I wanted to cry after watching this movie. It made me sad to be alive.

  2. >I saw this movie last night and I have to conclude that the more one knows about the art of movie making and story telling, the more you will hate this movie. Much like my girlfriend's classical music training renders her incapable of appreciating contemporary dance music.This is a film purely aimed at the video game generation. It is "Call of Duty : Alien Invasion" in all but name. It has the same ratio of action to plot to character development as a typical first person shooter console game. That's all this movie is intended to be, a video game brought to the big screen. And it does it well. And much more enjoyable that Transformers 2, that was a horrendous abortion of a movie. "Battle Los Angeles" achieves what it's producers set out to achieve. Good on them, I say!

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