Battle: Los Angeles
Directed by Jonathan Liebesman
Even generous B-movie standards can't make anything interesting of Battle: Los Angeles, at least that's how it initially appears. A frightfully added value-less amalgamation of its predecessors—lacking War of the Worlds's tense pacing, Independence Day's vast scope, or District 9's enjoyably over-determined metaphors—Jonathan Liebesman's film speeds shakily through the first strike, into the ground war and lingers for behind-enemy-lines heroics. Other L.A. movies make cameos: our marine platoon takes cover in a bullet-riddled police station (Assault on Precinct 13) before escaping by bus onto a highway with a missing chunk of off-ramp (Speed). But when Lieutenant Martinez (Ramon Rodriguez) wraps himself in explosives and detonates next to a squad of exoskeleton-suited invaders, leaving behind a CNN-familiar torn-open bus, the film's politics become frighteningly clear.
Improbably, Liebesman and screenwriter Christopher Bertolini have made a $100 million, two-hour recruitment video for the Marines that casts American soldiers as insurgents fighting for their homeland. They pitch to (almost) every demographic—including women and, in the most grating scene, children—from Aaron Eckhart's about-to-retire Iraq vet Sergeant Nantz to Ne-Yo's nerdy newbie Corporal Harris. Turned into a mess of mangled, body-strewn streets and shelled, smoldering buildings, L.A. becomes Baghdad, its camo-clad jihadis combatting a far more sophisticated invader who's after their water—an obvious end-times sci-fi stand-in for oil. As the rest of the army abandons coastal cities and their inhabitants (take that, NoCal liberals!) to hordes of parched aliens, a rag-tag bunch of marines and an Air Force technician (Michelle Rodriguez) stick around after evacuating some civilians, and try to take down an alien command center.
Their efforts are filmed in faux-gritty handheld cinematography, innumerable opportunities for uncomfortably beautiful shots rattled away in approximations of battlefield realism. This doesn't keep Battle from glorifying war, though. When Nantz tells the supervisor to whom he hands his retirement file, "Everything I know is in here," he speaks for the whole pro-armed forces film. Even civilians are symbolically drafted: Joe (Michael Peña) grabs a gun to save a soldier, sustaining a fatal wound in the process; his teary-eyed ten-year-old (Bryce Cass) ends up on the receiving end of the film's worst speech, Nantz telling him to be strong, "because Marines don't quit"; a middle-aged veterinarian (Bridget Moynahan) becomes an alien anatomy expert.
The film's focused scope, its embedded-ness with one urban warfare unit, maximizes the Iraq-Afghanistan allegory while sci-fi factors remain tangential—although the baddies' modular aircraft are undeniably cool, resembling District 9's saucers assembled from Transformers technology. Like the latter's flag-waving militarism, Battle's comically unselfconscious idolization of its men (and woman) in uniform—even after promising PTSD therapy sessions early on suggest a more complex portrayal of war—makes the abandonment of Hollywood to alien destroyers seem like a great idea.
Opens March 11