In the last 1/3 of Battle: L.A. protagonist Michael Nantz finally confesses to one of his men the details of the inner strife that has been percolating. It’s supposed to be an emotionally charged moment, but it’s abruptly deflated when Nantz proclaims, “But none of that matters right now.” And much to its detriment, that’s precisely how the film treats anything without bullets and fireballs.
The film opens with Staff Sargeant Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) running on a beach, only to be passed by half a dozen younger soldiers. He’s an aging war vet who is leaving the military soon, due in part to a recent difficult mission. The mystery of what has this grizzled soldier so shaken is one of the few things the film has going for itself.
Because the whole thing is like watching a movie made by a monkey who just discovered the zoom function on his camera, but has yet to evolve the capacities to use a tripod.
When you can see it, the scale of the practical effects is staggering and the CGI elements are blended well into our reality. One of the impressive aspects to War of the Worlds (2005) was that the triumph over the tripods was never self-evident, and Battle: L.A. creates the same dread with expansive shots of Santa Monica (they actually shot it in Louisiana) covered in fire and destruction.
Ultimately though, there’s way more bad than good here. One of the most aggravating elements any gamer encounters is the silly mission to protect civilians as you escort them to X. All they do is get in the way, put you in danger, and seem to have had their brains removed by hungry zombies. The same situation occurs in Battle: L.A. provoking equal resentment for three kids and two adults who in real life would not have been worth trying to rescue three hours before the military bombs the place. Their true purpose is to offer emotional manipulation: one woman teases the audience with a possible romance with Nantz , while only one kid interacts with Nantz–and that’s to allow for some bullshit Marine “HOORAH!” pep talk.
Whiiiiich leads to the title of this review. Battle: L.A. is swollen with military clichés that make you groan as soon as you see them coming: it’s full of noble sacrifice and battle angst (as in, Hicks from Aliens, battle angst). The latter serves only to underscore Nantz’s awesomeness because he doesn’t freak out about being surrounded by aliens – he makes exits by smashing through fences or blowing them up with clever ruses.
If the film starred 6 Nantz-like characters who got shit done in cool ways and didn’t have the constipated strain of trying to create real drama, the swelling music and chest-thumping Marine cheerleading would be warranted. But what’s taking place on screen never matches the hero vibe the film is trying to invoke. You’re not a hero because you throw on a uniform – you’ve got to earn it.
Without this syncopation between tone and what’s on screen, what’s left is a film that Leni Riefenstahl would love. And I thought Michael Bay’s jingoistic flourishes in the Transformers films were bad…
With all the punji pits Battle: L.A. fails to traverse, particularly the lack of emotional connective tissue, it devolves into a numbing two hour sequence of shaky cam street battles I’m sure the Marines hope will increase recruitment. But all the money, special effects, and leading men in the world are no match for a terrible script. Now wouldn’t that be an interesting film…