One doesn’t approach a movie like this expecting Shakespearean drama. Unlike some films with loftier ambitions, Battle Los Angeles pretty much delivers what it promises: action, suspense, destruction, and the tried-and-true disaster-movie trope of people summoning the courage to pull together at a time of crisis.
What sets this film apart is that it isn’t propelled by an earthquake or a tidal wave: in fact, it’s a mash-up of a disaster movie and an alien invasion yarn, cast in the mold of a war movie.
What seems at first like a series of meteor showers turns out to be a full-scale invasion—and the metallic creatures who are landing in frightening numbers on our shores make it abundantly clear that they plan to—
—wipe humankind off the face of the earth.
Aaron Eckhart is this movie’s rock of Gibraltar, playing a career Marine who’s just decided it’s time to retire when all units based at Camp Pendleton in Southern California are called up to help evacuate civilians from Los Angeles, which is under siege. (In fact, the film is practically a recruiting poster for the U.S. Marine Corps.)
Eckhart’s staff sergeant is subordinate to a by-the-book young lieutenant who’s had no combat duty, but it’s soon evident that this squadron needs a man of experience and courage to deal with the bedlam that surrounds them in the ocean-side city of Santa Monica.
Screenwriter Christopher Bertolini weaves personal stories involving individual Marines, as well as the innocent civilians, into his full-throttle narrative, and while some of the dialogue is unabashedly cheesy, it works in this context. Director Jonathan Liebesman keeps things lively from start to finish, capturing the chaotic atmosphere, keeping the aliens threatening at every turn, and never losing sight of the central story or its most important characters.
I don’t mean to damn Battle Los Angeles with faint praise, but for this kind of genre piece it’s not bad. It all has to do with your expectations.