Monday 14 March 2011

Review: Battle: Los Angeles

Year: 2011
Director: Jonathan Liebesman
Screenplay: Christopher Bertolini
Starring: Aaron Eckhart, Michelle Rodriguez

Synopsis is here:

One of the complaints I heard about Battle L.A over on the twitter was that the film is much like watching a video game. This is because the film appears to be structured exactly like one. Unlike other films I've mentioned with reference to video games (The Losers, Green Zone) this film seems to have completely lifted not only very typical cliche that comes with this type of affair, but also the plot from generic Playstation 1 game. I say Playstation 2 because owning both a PS3 and Xbox 360, I can almost safely state that even generic games on the current platforms are getting better with telling a basic story. I spent the last third of the film waiting for the film to hurry up and finish so I could go home and play Gears of War/Resistance/Killzone for the simple reason that would be far more entertaining.

Battle L.A believes that its cliche ridden narrative, infodump dialogue and stock characters are more than enough for the audience. Reason being that it's "visceral" camera work and action will distract everyone from the very fact that the script doesn't try hard. The problem is that director Jonathan Liebesman's action set pieces have no sense of place. Add this to the characters distinct lack of...well character; and you find yourself watching people you don't care about fighting/dying in a situation that you can't follow.

One of the more increasingly troubling elements with the modern action film isn't that they are nothing but explosion sequences (although this can be annoying), but that the actual footage within these scenes look as if it's been picked at random. It doesn't matter that you as a viewer have no idea whats going on because all you care about is explosions and gunfire. The reasoning behind this chaos is obviously to replicate the confusion and disorder of war. But even the video games that this film has nabbed from (check out all the down the sight shots for example) keep your character in view in order for you to remain in control. I am willing to sacrifice a certain amount of realism (in a film about alien invasion for Christ sakes) as long as the film realizes that I am watching the people on screen.

Such disorganized action only makes the the opening introduction of identikit soldiers feel even more ridiculous. It's bad enough that the film wishes to labor these guys with flat one note characterizations (none of the so-called back stories mean anything in the long run anyway), it only makes things worse that after the initial first wave of alien attacks you don't know whose dead or alive anyway. None of the actors infuse these grunts with any personality (considering that one of them is played by Ne-yo what was I expecting?) and the closest thing to an actual character is Aaron Eckhart's Micheal Nantz. This is a wasted performance from a talent actor giving his all to something that doesn't deserve it.

In watching Battle L.A. I am reminded on why Aliens stands out heads and shoulders above other features in the genre. Despite being 25 years old, it's understanding of story, stakes, character and action should not be dismissed. Not only does Battle L.A. not understand such simple mechanics, it simply doesn't care.