Mania Review: Battle: Los Angeles -

Mania Grade: B

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  • Starring: Aaron Eckhart, Michelle Rodriguez, Michael Pena, Ne-Yo, Ramon Rodriguez, Bridget Moynahan
  • Written by: Christopher Bertolini
  • Directed by: Jonathan Liebesman
  • Studio: Columbia Pictures
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Run Time: 116 minutes
  • Series:

Mania Review: Battle: Los Angeles


By Rob Vaux     March 09, 2011

Battle: Los Angeles
© Sony Pictures/Robert Trate

Somewhere between the brilliance of Black Hawk Down and the idiocy of Independence Day lies Battle: Los Angeles. It lacks the ambition of either film, content to deliver modest popcorn fun rather than Black Hawk’s gritty slice of life or ID4’s would-be cultural milestone. But in blending the two, it actually finds an identity of its very own. It does its job cleanly and efficiently, finding solid, down-to-earth entertainment almost without effort. Cheesy dialogue and stock characters mar the proceedings here and there, but Battle: Los Angeles never surrenders to cliché.

It also owes a strange debt of gratitude to Skyline, which tried to steal its thunder last fall and now makes it look like Citizen Kane in comparison. Battle: Los Angeles takes the same premise – aliens invading the world, with LA as the eye of the storm – and applies a few common-sense details to actually make the experience worthwhile. Instead of showing us entitled pretty boys cowering in their condo, it puts us on the ground with Pendleton Marines, who actually have the wherewithal to shoot back. Instead of focusing on the money shots of alien ships, it uses old-fashioned inference to hint at the invaders’ appearance (thus making them infinitely more frightening). And instead of casting blandly handsome leading men, it gives us Aaron Eckhart, who can deliver more grit and gumption with his little finger than an entire marina full of Pretty Young Things.

Eckhart plays Staff Sergeant Nantz, a burnt-out lifer ready to retire from the Marines when the little green men launch an all-out invasion.  He finds himself running a squad of terrified rookies as the aliens march through Santa Monica on their way inland. The armed forces have drawn a line in the sand about 10 miles from the shore. Nantz’s squad goes into no-man’s land to rescue a group of civilians from an abandoned police station. As they proceed, they unwittingly become the focal point for what may be humanity’s last stand.

Director Jonathan Liebesman makes it work because we never move beyond their perspective: the larger war arrives only in hasty snippets, delivering just enough to convey the stakes to us. The aliens skitter through rubble-filled streets at a distance, pausing only to unleash devastating attacks while the Marines do their best to take them down. The keys to victory come in small, logical steps, while central characters drop dead with almost casual indifference. Our limited perspective actually heightens the authenticity, making us feel as though this could actually happen instead of falling back on ID4’s imbecilic grandiosity. Liebesman keeps the pressure on his characters at all times, while devising new ways to shake up the same basic “grunts vs. space baddies” scenario. Along the way, he slowly builds to a climax that – while a tad convenient – still earns its payoff instead of taking our goodwill for granted.

Which isn’t to say it comes without a struggle. We learn about the Marines themselves through stock exposition and tired stereotypes, from the newbie lieutenant out of his depth to the tough guy from Jersey who knows how to hotwire cars. Battle: Los Angeles can’t resist pausing every now and then to deliver embarrassing speeches or pumping up the “go Marines” subtext to almost ludicrous proportions. Furthermore, Liebesman relies unduly on the now-standard shaky-cam perspective, which seriously needs to be retired. (You can do edgy and immediate without making the audience seasick, guys. Really.)

None of that proves fatal, however; just mildly annoying and detracting a bit from the film’s undeniable coolness. The producers scored a real coup with Eckhart, who sells the dodgy lines better than anyone could expect. His embattled everyman feels competent yet human, out of his depth and yet doing the best he can. And when the actor’s signature rage comes boiling to the surface, he revels in every inch of it: allowing his supporting cast to rally around him and give the audience a legitimate rooting interest. You can’t ask for more and Battle: Los Angeles doesn’t expect you to. It delivers on its promises without a lot of excess baggage, and makes for a nice diversion devoid of summer bombast. Indeed, once the dust settles, it may be more entertaining than a lot of its so-called betters. A little humility and a lot of hard work goes much farther than you’d think. 


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samurai1138 3/10/2011 4:08:08 AM

2D and its full of shaky cam? it's 2011 now, i dont do 2D shaky cam anymore.

Darkknight2280 3/10/2011 4:28:05 AM

Yeah because realism is so passe'. lol The shaky cam makes sense in a war movie, makes it feel as if a reporter is shooting the action ad you are ther experiencing it with them, thats why that worked in Cloverfield so well. That part of the film making made it fun to watch and feel like it could happen. But i guess if you get motion sickness that easily it can be an issue.

Im looking forward to seeing Battle: LA tomorrow after work! Been looking forward to it since i saw the 1st full length trailer. $45 million opening weekend.

Bryzarro 3/10/2011 4:39:29 AM

 Rob Vaux I could Kiss You!!!  Thanks for the review.  I was so worried to open it and see you slag this flick!!  Now i'm even more pumped for Friday night!!  

djcgmcse 3/10/2011 4:47:36 AM

Sounds good, great review Rob.

madmanic999 3/10/2011 5:23:40 AM

I'm not a huge fan of Rob's reviews.  He has a style I find to be full of cheap shots and back handed complements.  But slamming a critic for being overly critical is like slamming a porn star cause her boobs are too big... it might be true but does it really matter in the scheme of things.  Now thta I've had time to get used to him, when he dislikes something I might disagree, but I definately wont love it, when he hates something, it's a safe bet to stay away.  If he likes something I probably will too, might even love it, and if he loves a movie, it's probably worth seeing.  So with that said, really glad he like Battle for LA... I have 4 kids, and taking the wife to the movies can involve some prework, so if I'm heading to the theater it's gotta be worth it.

Badger 3/10/2011 5:35:54 AM

"the idiocy of Independence Day"

Oh come on... I actually liked Independence Day.

LocoLobo73 3/10/2011 5:50:50 AM

looking forward to seeing this on Saturday.

Hobbs 3/10/2011 6:40:36 AM

Meh...shakey camera equals a wait for the redbox.

Best ling in review "the idiocy of Independence Day" and that's being kind when he says that.

Darkknight2280 3/10/2011 7:05:56 AM

Independance day was good, but hokey. But you cant have a devlin/emmerich movie with out having hokey all over your

MADMANIAC: "But slamming a critic for being overly critical is like slamming a porn star cause her boobs are too big"LOL loved this line..and you are soo right. Plus i never care about reviews, im old enough to build my own thoughts and opinions on a Not that i dont read reviews, they just have no wieght on my decision to see a movie.


shadowprime 3/10/2011 7:20:00 AM

IT is funny - odd - how when you are watching a movie that is filled with implausibilities, ONE thing will take it just a BIT too far, and jar you out of that suspension of disbelief. For me, in Independence Day, it was when they were able to plug Jeff Goldblum's laptop into the alien network and download a virus. Come on - I can't even get a "plug and play" webcam or back-up drive to work half the time. @#$#$ updates designed for software I am USING won't install properly half the time. Just sayin' ...  compatible with ALIEN technology and software? Yeah. Right.

I know - THAT is too implausible? Not any of about six billion other things (you need to use laser-guided targeting to hit a spaceship the size of the island of Manhattan?)...? Yeah - go figure!

Still enjoyed ID, mind you. It was a fun, popcorn spectacle with a kind of 1950s "Us versus the Aliens" sensibility.  Just found it funny that I was going along for the ride 100% until that effortless software compatibility came up!


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