"BATTLE: LOS ANGELES" (2011) Review
I was surprised to discover that "SKYLINE", an alien invasion movie that had been released last fall, was not the first movie to be directed by Greg and Colin Strause. Three-and-a-half years ago, they directed a movie called "ALIENS VS. PREDATOR: REQUIEM", which managed to generate solid box office, if not critical acclaim. "SKYLINE" generated even less box office and critical acclaim than the 2007 movie, but it did earn a profit. But the movie generated even more – a scandal involving cries of plagiarism that involved the latest alien invasion film called "BATTLE: LOS ANGELES".
Before making ”SKYLINE”, the Brothers Strause had been hired by Sony Pictures and the producers of ”BATTLE: LOS ANGELES” to generate special effects for the latter. But after working on the latter film, they began producing and directing a film with a similar premise – alien invasion in Southern California. Sony Pictures decided to dismiss the arbitration against the brothers, six days after ”BATTLE: LOS ANGELES”, claiming that after the discovery phase they were satisfied that none of the ”BATTLE: LOS ANGELES” visual effects were used in ”SKYLINE”. After seeing both movies, I personally believe that Sony Pictures had nothing to worry about. ”BATTLE: LOS ANGELES” made ”SKYLINE” look like a drop of dog poop on the side of the road.
Set in Southern California – mainly in Santa Monica and West Los Angeles, ”BATTLE: LOS ANGELES” is an alien invasion tale about a squad of U.S. Marines, tasked to search for civilians trapped at a local police station, before the U.S. Air Force can commence upon a saturation bombing of Santa Monica. Before they could find the civilians, the Marines are joined by two others and a U.S. Air Force intelligence tech sergeant, who has information regarding an alien command center that allows the invaders control of the air. But before the Marines can make use of tech sergeant’s information, they have to ensure the safety of the civilians they finally come across and survive the best way they can.
Although ”BATTLE: LOS ANGELES” is obviously better than ”SKYLINE”, it is not without its flaws. To be honest, I have very few problems with the movie. Perhaps two or three problems. One, I think that screenwriter Chris Bertolini may have rushed the movie’s first fifteen to twenty minutes. From the moment when the camera focuses on lead character Staff-Sergeant Michael Nantz engaged in an early morning jog on a beach near Camp Pendleton to when he and his squad discover that they will be facing invading aliens at the Forward Operating Base at the Santa Monica Airport, at least fifteen to seventeen minutes passed. That seemed a bit . . . too fast to me. I would have preferred if Bertolini had been a little more in-depth in his introduction of the major characters. And I would have preferred if they had discovered that they would be facing hostile aliens, after hitting the streets to find the missing civilians. Oh well. We cannot have everything. Two, it almost seemed as if the Marines were using a strange mixture of military and sports jargon. I have heard it before in a miniseries called ”TOM CLANCY’S OP CENTER”. I found it strange then and I still find it strange. I suppose they use this brand of jargon in the military. But quite frankly, it makes me cringe. After a scene in which some of the Marines survived a traumatic attack by aliens near a freeway, director Jonathan Liebesman followed up with a brief scene of them tramping through the streets before seeking refuge at a convenience store. That scene featured a building that is located in downtown Los Angeles. But the Marines had not reached downtown. Because after leaving the convenience store, they returned to the Santa Monica Airport. There is no way they could have traveled from the West Los Angeles area to downtown Los Angeles and back to Santa Monica . . . that fast. Liebesman should have never included that building in a shot.
Now that I got my complaints out of the way, how did I feel about ”BATTLE: LOS ANGELES”? As I had earlier stated, I believe it was at least ten times better than ”SKYLINE”. In fact, it has become one of my favorite movies of 2011 . . . so far. I really enjoyed it. Despite Bertolini’s fast introduction, he did a first-rate job of maintaining some of the personal storylines and angst that plagued the main characters. The most important personal story involved Staff-Sergeant Nantz’s last assignment in Afghanistan. He turned out to be his squad’s sole survivor, which led many Marines to believe he had abandoned the squad. Because of his last tour in Afghanistan, Nantz decided to retire from the Marines. One of the Marines in Nantz’s old squad turned out to be the brother of one of the movie’s survivors, Corporal Jason Lockett. Lockett’s resentment toward Nantz more or less remained on the back burner, until after the tragic circumstances of the freeway battle. Another personal story centered on the squad’s commander, the newly commissioned Second Lieutenant William Martinez and his eagerness to prove himself in battle. Yes, this kind of storyline has been seen in many military films. Yet, thanks to the performances actors Aaron Eckhart (Nantz) and Ramón Rodríguez (Martinez), this storyline actually worked. I read somewhere that the character of Air Force Tech Sergeant Elena Santos was added at the last minute. And yet, this addition worked, for her character provided valuable information for the Marines to do something about the aliens’ command center. Nantz’s emotional connection with civilians like the veterinarian named Michele and a Latino father and son pair named Joe and Hector Rincon provided a great deal of angst in the movie’s center. More importantly, both Bertolini and Liebesman milked these minor storylines throughout most of the movie.
And I cannot talk about ”BATTLE: LOS ANGELES” without bringing up the film’s special effects. As I had earlier pointed out, the Brothers Strause was responsible for the visual effects and I believe they did a first rate job. Between their visual effects, Liebesman’s direction, Lukas Ettlin’s photography and Christian Wagner’s editing, ”BATTLE: LOS ANGELES” featured some very memorable scenes. Some of the scenes included the squad’s first encounter with the aliens on the fogged-covered streets of Santa Monica; Lockett and Lance Corporal Peter Kerns’ sighting of alien scouts on the roof of the police station and the surviving squad members’ nighttime helicopter ride above battle torn Los Angeles. But the visual centerpieces proved to be – at least for me – the two major battles featured in the movie. And I am referring to the freeway battle that resulted in tragic consequences and the final battle that featured the squad’s attempt to destroy the aliens’ command center. Between the visual effects, the editing and the action, these scenes struck me as mind blowing.
The movie’s producers and Jonathan Liebesman did an excellent job in casting the roles in the films. Aside from a few performances, most of the cast did solid work. I was even impressed by singer Ne-Yo, who portrayed one of the Marines, Corporal Kevin Harris. He and Gino Anthony Pesi (Corporal Nick Stavrou) managed to establish a humorous screen team as two best friends. I am certain that many people are aware that Elena Santos became another one of Michelle Rodriguez’s “tough girls” roles that has become her personal stock over the past decade. Mind you, her Santos came off as mature and did not turn into one of those “in your face” types that many have complained about over the years. And she blended well with the cast. Bridget Moynahan gave a solid performance as one of the civilians trapped at the police station. And she and Eckhart managed to establish a good chemistry without any taint of romance. I was especially impressed by his work in a scene in which his character expressed regret over his failure to leave the police station, when he had the chance. I would like to point out that Adetokumboh M'Cormack (Corpsman Jibril Adukwu), Jim Parrack (Sterns), and Will Rothhaar (Corporal Lee Imlay) did a great job in establishing why Nantz seemed to regard them as three of the sqaud’s most dependable character. And Rothhaar managed to achieve this with a great deal of humor. I just realized that Rodriguez is not the only ”LOST” cast alumni who appeared in this film. M’Cormack did two guest appearances on the show and both acted opposite British actor Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje.
But there were performances that really stood out for me. Michael Peña also gave excellent performance as Joe Rincon, of the other civilians that were trapped at the West L.A. police station. Cory Hardrict gave a first-rate and subtle performance as Jason Lockett, the one Marine who harbored lingering resentment toward Nantz over the death of his brother – especially in one scene in which the two finally faced the matter. The last time I had ever seen Ramón Rodríguez , he portrayed Shia LaBeouf’s frantic roommate in the second ”TRANSFORMERS” movie. Imagine my surprise in seeing him portrayed the squad’s earnest, yet inexperienced leader, Lieutenant Martinez. I am happy to report that his Martinez came off as a lot less frantic (and embarrassing) than his character in ”TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN”. In fact, he did a great job in portraying Martinez’s anxieties and eagerness without even going over the top. And for that I am eternally grateful. However, it was Aaron Eckhart who really carried the movie. And he did a superb job. This is the second time I have seen him in the lead of a movie. And after watching his performance as the competent, yet angst-ridden Michael Nantz, I can only wonder why he has not been cast in the lead in more of the A-studio films. For me, his best scene featured Nantz’s reaction after destroying an alien drone using a walkie-talkie and a grenade. Watching Eckhart’s hand shake, while the other cast members applauded his character’s actions was one of the best examples of silent acting I have seen in quite a while.
I am aware that ”BATTLE: LOS ANGELES” only managed to garner mixed reviews from the critics. I am also aware that the movie is not perfect. Nor is it the best alien invasion movie I have ever seen. But I still managed to enjoy the movie so much that I have to give kudos to director Jonathan Liebsman for his direction of a first-rate movie and an excellent cast led by the always superb Aaron Eckhart. Not surprisingly, I went to see this movie for a second time before it left my neighborhood’s movie theaters . . . and enjoyed it even more.