movie review: Battle Los Angeles

by Leonard Maltin
March 11, 2011 5:12 AM
8 Comments
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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.





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8 Comments

  • Jim Reinecke | July 5, 2011 12:50 PMReply

    It took a few months for me to catch up with this one (saw it on DVD last night) and I have to give it a big thumbs-up. I found this vastly superior to the not-dissimilar DISTRICT 9 (yes, Leonard, I know you rated that one ***1/2 but I still can't figure out why!), as that film (especially in the last half-hour) relied on nothing more than gross-out special effects and the seemingly endless repetition of the F-bomb. For me, the difference between this film and that one is like the difference between a genuinely hair-raising end of the world flick (like DEEP IMPACT) and a completely cheesy one (ARMAGEDDON anyone?). I'm really beginning to respect the versatility of Mr. Eckhart, as well. After his first-rate comedic showing in THANK YOU FOR SMOKING, he was totally believable in a powerful emotional drama like RABBIT HOLE and he acquits himself well in a role that seems cut from the John Wayne-Clint Eastwood-Lee Marvin mold. *** from me on this one.

  • Myron | April 17, 2011 7:53 AMReply

    People who watched this movie for serious storylines and award winning acting are watching the wrong movie. Battle LA is meant for seeing the war as through the eyes of a marine. People argue that things don't make sense? You try going to war with aliens, and piecing together what makes sense while bullets are flying over your head. Not to mention your friends being killed right beside you, homes and building getting blown to pieces, and civilians being shot on the beach. This movie reminded me a lot of Black Hawk Down, and that was one of the greatest war movies of all time.
    Final Rating: 9/10

  • Wing | April 5, 2011 11:47 AMReply

    My problem with Battle is that it's an alien movie with very little of the alien! Yes, there are sightings from a distance and up close, but the alien(s) never actually become fully realized characters. Perhaps this is intentional since their motivation is to wipe out humanity and take access of the water. This is problematic to a degree since the earth is mostly water, and since humans are not amphibious the aliens could come straight for the water and never even encounter us! On a deeper level, I need to 'love to hate' my aliens. Godzilla and Cloverfield became cuddly pet lizards, and ET practically became a Senator! These aliens have no face, no voice, no real heart - and thus no reason for us to do anything but blast them out of the sky (or oddly, the ground). Yes the war story plays good and the band of soldiers plays their expected notes. However for my alien movie dollar, i want my damn alien!!

  • Martin Phipps | April 5, 2011 1:31 AMReply

    I think the problem with this movie is that the movie was just boring most of the time. It was only when they got half way through when I actually started to pay attention and say "So what are they going to do now?" I think some critics, even if they don't physically walk out of a movie theater, they'll give up on a movie half way through and start thinking instead about what a bad review they are going to give. I think the smart thing to do would have been to start the movie half way through and then have the audience say "What just happened?" and THEN go back a few days. It would have been a better movie.

    Oh and as for the aliens wanting our water, yeah, this was Fox News. Maybe they were just really thirsty.

  • BillB | March 23, 2011 5:52 AMReply

    It's 'Black Hawk Down' meets 'Cloverfield', and I was thoroughly engrossed with it (just as I was with those other two). That said, I had several major problems with its storyline. First was the preposterous explanation for the aliens' invasion, second was the 'proof' of that explanation (which was so far beyond preposterous that my mind just rejected that it had been stated and/or decided the scientist who makes the claim is a Fox News staffer), and third was the closing scene - really 'rah rah feelgood' but at complete odds with what had driven the action throughout the movie. In fact, the aliens' supposed reason for invading & proof thereof make the entire battle irrelevant.

  • The StarWolf | March 21, 2011 2:11 AMReply

    Expecting Shakespeare? No. A Pulitzer-winning script? No. As far as plot, acting, editing and, visuals were concerned, it worked fine.

    Or would have, if it had been given a chance. But the all-pervasive use of the hugely annoying 'shaky cam' routine pretty much killed it. Four people, from 20 to 57 years old in our group and we all agreed the cinematography sank the film for us and we cannot recommend it to anyone. To those who say it's essential to convey the feel of war I have three words: THE LONGEST DAY.

  • raquel | March 18, 2011 5:54 AMReply

    Director Ewing Miles Brown says Sam Botta has lost 70 lbs for Movie Tech Studios pre-production of "Live Fearless with Sam Botta"

  • JIM HOLTH | March 14, 2011 5:35 AMReply

    mr maltin

    why are you the only movie critic who actually saw the same movie as i. most critics reviews are very negative about this movie. this film rocks. fast paced,
    but still had flaws. i give this film *** stars out of four.
    thank you for your honest review

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