film review: Battle: Los Angeles (2011)3 Comments
Have you watched it yet? Ok, great. On with the review.
So as you can tell from the trailer, Battle: Los Angeles is set during an alien invasion. I’m all on for alien invasion films. It’s been a good while since I’ve seen a proper one (unless you count Transformers, and I don’t) so I was up for it.
At the same time though, as I mentioned in the earlier post, I wasn’t really expecting much from it. Yeah, it was a great trailer but I think it’s fair to say that if you expected all films to be as good as their trailers, you’d be sorely disappointed almost every time you went to the cinema. I’m not saying that to be contrary or anything. It’s just a fact. I mean honestly, when’s the last time you went to a film and thought “Wow! That was way better than the trailer made it look!”? Personally I think “Not as bad as the trailer made it look” is almost as positive as you can hope for when it comes to trailer vs. film…
Anyway, on to the film so that I can get to the real reason I’m really writing this review…
… Except that I should probably tell you a bit about the film first.
Ok, so we start off with aliens invading Earth but the film fairly quickly gets to it’s focus – One platoon (I’m not sure if that’s the correct terminology, let me know if I’m wrong) of Marines in Santa Monica who have one mission to do during this invasion. This is not some big drama / thriller encompassing the whole of the world and the effect of the alien invasion. It’s a war film focusing on this one group of people.
The fact is that, while Battle: Los Angeles is set during an alien invasion, it’s really an war/action film, with some beautiful special effects. To that end, I thought it was very well done. I found it reasonably well structured. I thought it was exciting. I thought we got to know enough about the characters (for an action film). I thought the battles were well choreographed. I thought the special effects were fantastic. I did think some of the music was a little… melodramatic maybe, but not so much that it became annoying. Yes, some of the dialogue was a bit clichéd and a bit cheesy and I may have laughed a few times but, it’s not a film that so po-faced that laughing would signal some kind of failure in it.
I also, predictably, if you’ve ever seen any of my comments about him, thought that Aaron Eckhart was very well cast as the tough, grizzled but handsome Staff Sergeant. He brought a bit of class to the proceedings. Ne-Yo? Well, put it this way, I had no idea there was a popstar in the cast and when I found out afterwards I couldn’t guess which one he was. So I’m taking that as a good sign. Michelle Rodriguez? I really don’t like Michelle Rodriguez generally, I find her good-looking bad-ass schtick irritatingly dull… but she didn’t annoy me in this. All the same I’d like to see her play against type some time. The rest of the characters were grand, I mean they were all grappling with the clichéd dialogue but I felt they all made it through. More on that anon.
Here’s the real reason I’m writing this review.
Over the last day or two I have seen a lot of negativity around Battle: Los Angeles. At last check it was around 33% on Rotten Tomatoes. Well I’m here to be one of the voices on the other side. I thought B:LA was class fun. Ok, it’s no Starship Troopers but it put me in mind of it and Starship Troopers is probably my favourite alien film of all time so… it’d be a bit lofty to hope that B:LA could reach those heady heights… but the fact that it put me in mind of ST is an achievement.
The main criticism I’ve seen of B:LA is that it’s cliché ridden. Well that’s true. I’m not going to deny that. The beginning is a bit cringe-worthy as they roll out the characters using every disaster movie cliché in the book. That turns out ok though, given the action later on, they had to introduce the characters early on and well, you have to have something interesting to say about them no? With hindsight, it was pretty efficient actually. The only way it could have been more efficient would be if they’d just lined them up and had them salute and say their names. But then they really would have just been grunts, no different from the aliens. As for the military clichés later on, well come on. You can’t have soldiers running around without at least sometimes shouting “Hoo-Arr!” or some other such rousing call. And let’s face it, it’s not a war film if you don’t have like, the rookie and pissed off fella and people making ridiculous sacrifices and so forth. It’s just how it goes.
Oh, oh! And the most annoying criticism I’ve seen of it is people saying “Is this supposed to be some kind of military propaganda? Are we all supposed to feel good about the war in Afghanistan now?”. Good Lordi people. Where the hell did that come from? It’s a film about people doing their jobs. It’s a film about being human. It’s a film about trying to survive. It never rams any kind of jingoism or any moral or political judgement of any kind down your throat. So the characters are wearing Marine uniforms, so what? If I watched a film about a really good chef, I wouldn’t assume that film is trying to encourage me to become a chef.
What else did I want to complain about? Oh yeah. This other idea I’ve seen bandied about some reviews – that we don’t get to learn enough about what’s going on on the aliens side. I don’t get that. We hear what they’re after and it’s made more than clear that their military procedures are pretty much exactly like ours. What more do we need to know? Ok, they could have, I suppose, shown us some of what goes on with the aliens… But like I said, the film is tightly focussed on this platoon and their mission. If they started doing other stuff it would have been a completely different movie, if you know what I mean. And who cares if we don’t see their faces? Why do I want to see their faces? Just to see how good the make-up people are on the film? What does it matter?
Last thing I’m going give out about is all these complaints about the shaky camera. Now. I hate shaky camera. I suffer badly from motion sickness, check my reviews of Cloverfield and Paranormal Activity to see how that can affect my enjoyment of a film. And I didn’t particularly feel it in this. It was a little dodgy around the start but as the film went on they toned it down and I really didn’t notice any ill effects from the camera shaking. If there was any, it was not excessive in my opinion.
I think that’s enough for now.
Oh no, just briefly as well. I keep seeing people saying “It’s like District 9 without the X,Y,Z” or “It’s not half as good as District 9” or “Go watch District 9 instead”.
First of all – and I did really like it, gave it the same rating as I’ll give this – but District 9 is not the be all and end all of alien films. Yeah, it was good but it’s not like it’s AMAZING. And secondly, I just don’t see how you can make the comparison anyway. All that’s similar about it is that aliens come to town. That’s all. Battle: Los Angeles is a war film that happens to have some aliens in it. You’d be better off comparing it to the likes of Green Zone than District 9.
Phew. I feel better now.
… Ok, ok, I’ll be a little magnanimous. I think a lot of people maybe went into this expecting something else. I don’t know what they expected but I know I expected nothing in particular, except some good special effects. So, I was pleasantly surprised to see characters and a plot and some good battles. I guess if you were expecting more than that then you’d want to find criticism wherever it may be.
Suffice to say, I really liked Battle: Los Angeles. If it sounds like your kind of thing, then go see it. Just don’t expect some ground-breakingly breath-taking new take on the alien invasion film. Expect a competent action film and you should be alright.