BOX OFFICE REVIEW: Battle: Los Angeles
When aliens invade, send in the Marines...and some great SFXs...
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As a former active-duty U.S. Marine who's seen combat, I'm always excited to see my service on the big screen. Be it Leathernecks from the past charging the sand dunes of Iwo Jima and facing the cold hell of Korea, modern-day Jarheads fighting Saddam's forces in Kuwait and Baghdad or futuristic Marines fighting xenomorphs on LV-426, I'll watch anything if the Marines are kickin' butt and takin' names.
When I heard the U.S. Marines would be taking center stage in Battle: Los Angeles, the latest film from director Jonathan Liebesman (The Killing Room, Darkness Falls) and writer Christopher Bertolini (The Generalís Daughter), I was excited. As Iím a fan of sci-fi military movies, I had high expectations for Battle: LA. I don't only want rough-and-ready Marines, deadly aliens, massive explosions, screaming bullets, and gorgeous special effects, but also an intelligent plot, well-developed characters, and compelling drama.
Battle: LA exceeded all of my expectations in terms of action and SFX; however, I also found the film to have a rehashed story, shallow characters, and a clichť ending that works, but disappoints.
In Battle: LA, a squad of Marines from Battalion 2/5 take center stage. Now first, I have to give you a bit of info about the Marines of 2/5 before we go any further. 2/5 is the most decorated infantry battalion in the Corps and famous for a quote by Marine Officer Lloyd W. Williams, who - in the middle of a trench battle in France during World War I - was ordered to retreat. Williams replied with a famous line which has been quoted (and misquoted) ever since. He simply said, "Retreat? Hell, we just got here!" Thus was born 2/5's motto "Retreat? Hell!" It's this line we hear over and over throughout Battle: LA, helping motivate the members of the Marines squad we follow.
We're introduced to the Marines of 2/5 while the warriors enjoy liberty, drinking it up and enjoying the company of the fairer sex. Of course, the squad includes the typical character-types: a Marine who's underage (he had to get his mom's signature to sign up), a Marine who's soon to be married, a Marine who's becoming a citizen of the USA, a Marine who's suffering from PTSD, a Marine who'll soon be a father and others. While these are no doubt real-to-life descriptions of Marines (heck, this could have been my platoon when I was in the Corps), these characters - after having seen their type so often on-screen in film and television - seem clichť.
That said, Battle: LA immediately helps us forget the lack of character depth by thrusting us into some of the most intense, brutal and devastating action possible. We watch as Los Angeles and its defending forces are systematically destroyed; buildings crumble, helicopters explode, skyscrapers are torn down and residence and service personnel burn. Seriously intense, the city's destruction is reminiscent of the likes of which we've only seen in films like The Day After Tomorrow, Independence Day, and 2012.
The alien menace of Battle: LA, both original and interesting, makes for an effective enemy for our Marines. Both organic and mechanical, theyíre brutal, with a refined style and a well-developed reason for invading our planet. Their fight and the reasons for it we understand, making them more like us than we might feel comfortable.
While Battle: LA may feature some of the most impressive special effects, urban combat, and interesting alien enemies moviegoers have seen, the filmís story, character development, and ending leave something to be desired.
The filmís story Ė and particularly the ending Ė feels forced, rushed, and somewhat ragged in its development and resolution. Itís almost as if writer Bertolini didnít know how to end the film and simply watched other alien invasion movies for inspiration, copying what had been done before. Whatever was the cause, most fans will find the filmís end to be disappointing.
Likewise, the previously mentioned characters didn't fully capture my heart. We watch as these young men and women are forced to make difficult decisions, battle a clearly dominant enemy and are maimed and killed and yet, itís hard to care about any of them. As an audience, we donít feel attached to them - emotionally or spiritually. And this is maybe where Battle: LA fails...or succeeds. After considering the fact I didn't really care for any of the characters, I thought that make be for the best as the creators of Battle: LA arenít afraid to kill off major characters, something I appreciate as the good guys donít always live to fight another day. And maybe that is a good reason why I don't want to care about the characters.
All negativity aside, as Iíve previously said, Iím a sucker for movies featuring Marines and, as a sci-fi fan, Iíll be seeing Battle: LA again. And again and again. Heck, Iíll be buying it when it comes out on blu-ray and inviting my buddies over to watch as 2/5 kicks all sorts of alien butt.
Battle: Los Angeles is in theaters now and is rated PG-13 for sustained and intense sequences of war violence and destruction, and for language.
-Jess C. Horsley