I knew I was in trouble with Battle: Los Angeles from the outset.
The movie opens with our reluctant hero (Aaron Eckhart), the grizzled war veteran haunted by his past, having a meeting with a higher-up assigning him to a new spot behind a desk somewhere. Eckhart is reluctant, of course. He wants to be in the thick of battle, helping the cause. That ambush wasn’t his fault, dammit! But the officer’s hands are tied. “We all wish your men could’ve made it home, sergeant,” he says understandingly, the line so jarringly stilted that giggles sweep through the audience.
For the next five minutes, we meet the rest of Eckhart’s new team, a collection of stock characters so obvious that I was whispering predictions of their defining characteristic aloud as they appeared on screen. “That guy’s about to get married.” “That guy’s his best friend – and also his fiancé’s brother.” “That guy’s a desperate virgin.” “That guy’s one day away from retiring.” “That guy has lots of book knowledge but no fight experience. He’s gonna be the new commander.” “That guy’s wife is pregnant.” Not only was I never wrong, there was never a question that I would be. I could see this movie coming from a mile away.
The rest of the film is war movie gibberish, filled with jittery handheld camerawork and shouted military nonsense (“We are at Threat Con Delta! Move move move move move!”). When the aliens come (because of course it’s aliens), we spend the appropriate amount of time debating whether these are really aliens, where they come from, etc. There’s the obligatory shot of news reporters standing on the scene, getting footage of the alien ships landing, before they’re all killed and the signal disappears into static. And then the battle for Los Angeles is on.
The advantage of all the frenetic camerawork is that its harder to spot plot holes, and yet there’s still plot holes aplenty: If you’ve come to earth to steal the water from the ocean, why would you land in the water immediately outside of LA? Why not somewhere in the middle of the gigantic Pacific ocean surrounding it? And if you’ve mastered space travel, why would the Air Force give you so much trouble? And especially, this logic: “we need to sneak up on them so they don’t see us.” “No problem. Let’s just all get on this bus. They won’t see a bus coming towards them.” The one that killed me was the way they chose to solve the classic “our soldiers are pouring ammunition into these aliens, but they won’t die!” They ended up autopsying an alien they find and discover that its heart is on “the other side of its chest.” Of course! Problem solved, guys.
By the time the film had descended into supposedly heroic one-liners (“We’ve already had our breakfast,” “I need you to be my little Marine”) it had already killed off most of its stock characters (oh, don’t write a letter to your wife and hand it to someone! Have you learned nothing from movies?). Not that it mattered, seeing as I never learned anyone’s name, including the main character’s. But then, why bother? The movie was never going to take itself seriously enough to try and make them actual people, anyway. Other than the fact that most of the characters die, the whole thing feels like a military recruitment video anyway, though mercifully without that Three Doors Down song. It’s all jingoism and no heart.