The pitch for Battle: Los Angeles must have sounded great: Black Hawk Down meets Independence Day, an alien invasion told from a grunt’s-eye view. Here again, elite soldiers off swarms of insurgent warriors, but not on the streets of Mogadishu: in the familiar pockets of L.A. sprawl, which are rendered like the backdrop of a post-apocalyptic Call Of Duty. But Black Hawk Down had the advantage of drawing on a real event, meticulously recounted in Mark Bowden’s book, and it earns the gravitas imbued on the fighters and their core values. By contrast, Battle: Los Angeles draws entirely on clichés: clichés about a hero about to retire and in need of redemption, clichés about the bonds between granite-cut men, clichés in every speech and “Don’t you die on me!”-type sentiment. And they’re all shouted at top volume.
Though a little time is allotted for perfunctory character development, Battle: Los Angeles throws the audience right into an alien invasion as it’s happening. Nothing is known about where the aliens come from, what they want, or even how to kill them, and what little intrigue the film generates comes from ordinary soldiers trying to figure out the answers to these questions. Mere weeks away from resigning from the service after 20 years, Aaron Eckhart carries the baggage of losing men in a failed mission in the Middle East. The alien invasion gives him one last shot to lead an isolated platoon into battle against an enemy that has swiftly obliterated human air and ground forces in L.A. and other cities around the world.
Battle: Los Angeles got some press last year when Colin and Greg Strause—the sibling team whose company, Hydraulx, was hired to do the effects—were accused of appropriating materials for their inexpensive science-fiction movie Skyline, and rushing it into theaters first. If that’s true, we now have two generic movies for the price of one and a half. Every element of Battle: Los Angeles is borrowed from a superior source: the creature designs (District 9 meets War Of The Worlds), the shaky-cam “immediacy” (the last two Bourne movies), even Michelle Rodriguez’s character (Aliens, nearly every other Michelle Rodriguez performance). It’s loud, relentless, and difficult to endure, capturing the experience of ground-level alien warfare with woeful verisimilitude.