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 General’s Daughter), I was excited. As I’m 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 cliché 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 cliché.
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, they’re 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 film’s story, character development, and ending leave something to be desired.
The film’s story – and particularly the ending – feels forced, rushed, and somewhat ragged in its development and resolution. It’s almost as if writer Bertolini didn’t 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 film’s 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, it’s hard to care about any of them. As an audience, we don’t 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 aren’t afraid to kill off major characters, something I appreciate as the good guys don’t 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 I’ve previously said, I’m a sucker for movies featuring Marines and, as a sci-fi fan, I’ll be seeing Battle: LA again. And again and again. Heck, I’ll 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
"Until next time...have FUN with your figures!!"
Jess C. Horsley