Monday, March 14, 2011

Review: Battle Los Angeles

Oh hot damn.

A few years ago there was a huge clamor over the possibility of a movie based on the Halo games. Peter Jackson was involved, then Neil Blomkamp (District 9). Then the whole thing fell apart. People were pissed. They thought that a movie based on Halo would be epic and fantastic. And for everyone under that belief, for everyone who still believes that video game concepts make for awesome movies, my response is "No, they don't." Why not? Battle: Los Angeles.

Battle: Los Angeles (2011) is Independence Day (1996) told from the perspective of a single unit of marines. On the day before he is set to retire, Staff Sergeant Micheal Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) is called back into active service to lead Echo Company, 2nd battalion, 5th Marine regiment as they conduct an evacuation of western Santa Monica during what is thought to be a meteor shower. It doesn't take long for the marines to encounter the real threat and from then on the film is a constant barrage of action and suspense.

It's a video game on film. That's what it is and that's what you should expect from it. The sad part about that is that there are plenty of games with really good stories. But if you were to boil down the concept of a video game, a military shooter against aliens, and throw out every good dramatic idea, you'd get this. Imagine if someone had read a book containing every military movie cliche ever used and decided to use that as his script bible. Let's check off the cliches:
  • Commanding Officer a single day away from retirement with a dark past
  • Young virgin soldier
  • Soldier with a pregnant wife
  • Soldier about to get married
  • Soldier with a dead brother (who blames the new Staff Sergeant)
  • Single latino parent with a young child
  • Brave young latino child
I'll be fair. There are large portions of this film that I thoroughly enjoyed. Although he stumbles significantly in other areas, director Jonathan Liebesman knows action sequences and executes them very well. Whenever the characters aren't speaking the movie is fun. The alien invaders are sufficiently scary at times and the set pieces are intense enough to make me pay attention. There's a particular sequence on a bridge where the kids have to be lowered down while everyone is under fire that was very suspenseful. The movie is filmed like a military documentary and it shows. It feels like a war movie that just happens to have aliens as the enemy and that's entertaining.

The problems are completely on the written page. Everything is predictable, everything is cliche. Every line of dialogue is an unintentional laugh-riot. At one point Nantz gives a long emotional speech about his dark past. He follows up this powerful speech with the line: "But none of that matters any more." Half the audience fell out of their chairs. At another moment, Nantz notices that the aliens are particularly difficult to kill. The team manages to capture one damaged but alive and attempt surgery to find any weaknesses. After tearing through endless layers of tough armor (it took several minutes of screen time), Nantz plunges his knife into something soft and exclaims, "Here! This is it!" So all we have to do is shoot through tons of layers of ridiculously strong armor? Thanks man, good advice.

SPOILERS (I guess)

But the icing on the cake is when the team finally realizes the enemy mothership's secret weakness: Missiles! And after their success, they return to base to hear that the details of their amazing strategy are being broadcast all over the world. My god, we never thought to shoot missiles at them! Finally, now that we've figured out what to do, we can take those alien sons of bitches down!

Wait, what?

Missiles? What have you been doing, throwing rocks at the things?

That it took even half a second for the American military to decide to chuck an explosive at something that disagreed with them is ridiculous. It's so ridiculous, in fact, that it was all anyone could talk about as they exited the theater. Hell, even in Independence Day they had at least enough brains to show us that explosives, even nuclear explosives, were useless against the invaders. These guys are chumps!

Sigh. There's a game adaptation of this movie that will be released in the next few weeks for download on Xbox 360 and PS3. Maybe that'll have a better story.

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