I got to see the latest alien invasion movie, Battle: Los Angeles today. The previews looked mesmerizing. The notion of a highly realistic alien invasion movie had a lot of appeal for me. What I saw was more in the realm of a modern war movie than a science fiction.
This is going to sound like a lot of complaints, but it’s only because of the nature of the movie.
First, this movie has some serious identity problems. The easiest example of this is number of characters that all blend together. The first twelve minutes or so are glimpses into the lives of the main characters, each a Marine who will be part of the squad sent on the movie’s core mission. Aaron Eckhart’s Nantz is the early standout as the movie does a good job of showing how he’s a Staff Sergeant serving with men who are twenty years his junior. Aside from Nantz, very few of the other Marines stand out, being shown in too similar lighting and too similar of sets. There are conflicts set up, but exploited little. The main conflict, aside from the aliens, is the fact that Nantz is the only survivor of his previous unit.
Problem number two: Alien technology. The ground troops are great points of curiosity, having decent armor and weapons grafted onto their bodies. Using water as fuel is an interesting conceit as well, providing a clear reason for the aliens to invade/colonize in the first place. The bulk of the alien air force is also interesting, having the ability to separate modular pieces to search and destroy or unify to combine firepower. The larger the craft, the more it looks like junk however, as you can see in the poster above.
As I mentioned before, a great deal of the story focuses on modern military combat. One of the reasons why this is possible is the aliens have limits to their combat capability and cannot lay waste to humanity as simply as the aliens in Independence Day. These aliens are mean and powerful, but they are never all powerful, just tough.
The military mindset permeates the storytelling of the movie, not just the way the characters think. The uniformity of mindset makes it hard to completely relate to the movie at times, especially in the most severe of shaky-cam battles. Not all the battles are this way, and there are times when the characters are able to find human connections even when they have distinct differences.
I was hoping to get a movie in the vein of District 9, but featuring US military forces. Instead, I got a modern, realistic Halo. Some of you out there might be cheering, but Halo has always been weak when it comes to characterization. Aaron Eckhart is carrying the rest of the cast. If an actor isn’t playing off him, they tend to fall flat in their scenes.
Battle: Los Angeles is a good time, but I don’t think it’s super special. It’s a movie built around a single rescue mission and everything builds on that one task.