by Tim Ross
Someone once asked astronomer and ambassador for science Carl Sagan if he thought a visiting alien civilization would be peaceful or war-like. He answered that, given the immense technological prowess it would take to travel from any distant planet to Earth, they would be so advanced that they would most likely be peaceful.
He added that he hoped they would be peaceful because, if their technology that far ahead of ours, they would essentially be able to do anything they wanted to us. Luckily for us humans, “Battle: Los Angeles” doesn’t present such a problem.
These aliens flew to Earth in hordes (without our being able to detect them), have guns very much like the Marines who fight them and fly in fighter craft that appear to use combustion engines just like we do.
You can guess the rest.
Against death-defying odds, on surprisingly equal ground, the United States Marines are gonna kick butt and take names.
Aside from belief-stretching plot contrivances and hokier dialogue than a John Wayne film, “Battle: Los Angeles” is one fantastic ride.
Staff Sgt. Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart ) is on the cusp of retirement and soul-weary from losing men under his command in Iraq. Second Lt. William Martinez (Ramon Rodriguez) is younger than Nantz, but given command as suspicions swirl about Nantz’s ability to lead.
Moments after meeting our platoon, they’re sent up the coast to Santa Monica to investigate meteor showers hitting the ocean off the coast of southern California. The “meteors” are, in fact, alien ships filled with hostile, gun-toting extraterrestrials, and the fight is on.
In addition to combating an overwhelming alien force, the platoon is also racing against time to clear out of a planned bombing zone. During their fight-and-flight, they run into the remnants of another platoon and take on Tech Sgt. Elena Santos (Michelle Rodriguez).
Once the band of heroes is in place, they focus on finding a way to take on the aliens and survive the encounter. The plot never gets much more complicated than that, and kudos to writer Christopher Bertolini for choosing simplicity over forced intrigue. The premise may be tough to swallow, but the rest of the story examines basic qualities of courage, loyalty and survival.
Unfortunately, even an “us vs. aliens” action film needs dialogue, and that’s where “Battle: Los Angeles” loses the fight. Eckhart hisses one cliché after another and all the soldiers talk as if they’re reading the Marine recruiting manual.
But Bertolini and director Jonathan Liebesman get around this little problem with bullets. Lots and lots of bullets. In fact, the bullets pretty much never stop flying. Nor the bombs bursting or Marines hoorahing their way from one narrow escape to the next.
It’s a summer popcorn movie in early March, and you’ll not want to get up for refills.
Liebesman comes from a mostly horror-flick background but doesn’t fall back on aliens jumping out from dark corners or contrived anticipation. The fear comes from the incredible odds the Marines face in hopes of survival.
“Battle: Los Angeles” is a true war movie, but with the benefit of CG technology that brings an epic quality without the need for star-studded casts and extreme runtimes of other war epics such as “Tora! Tora! Tora!” or even “Platoon.” But that’s also the film’s other major flaw.
We barely get to know any of the characters, so their plight or glory isn’t shared with the same commitment we’d have to characters we’ve come to love or hate.
“Battle: Los Angeles” is a video game on the big screen. One heck of a video game – perhaps more so than a well-told story – and one you’ll want to see on the big screen. So get a large tub of popcorn and strap in for one heck of a ride.
Grade: 3/4 Stars