The past two decades in Hollywood have borne witness to the shameless display of world elimination enough times to consider them acts of sheer exploitation. This trend might have begun in the mid-nineties with Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day, a spectacular B-movie blockbuster whose box office earnings topped $800 million worldwide. Blinded by the comfort of this impressive payoff, Emmerich went on to make the same film three more times, under the titles Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow and 2012. Now, here comes the fourth. As Hollywood’s latest investment, Battle: Los Angeles’s highlighting feature is its uncanny ability to insult the intelligence of its viewers.
The film opens with a series of attempts to introduce a set of soldiers in a state of global emergency. They are told that they are to arrive at the crash sites of several mysterious meteors in Los Angeles. At this point, none of them are aware that they are in a collision course with hostile alien forces.
On location, their superiors inform them that the meteors are reportedly not landing at terminal velocity, and that they are slowing down upon impact. The men are startled with disbelief. With butterflies in their stomachs, they are sent out to investigate.
When the extraterrestrials finally emerge from their craters in their bio-mechanical suits and body-welded machine guns, they begin blowing up buildings and shooting any and all the humans in sight. Their weapons are in some way or another more powerful than ours, leaving the soldiers on sight hardly any hope for victory. The streets are covered in blood, debris and dust. The world is in chaos. Sound familiar.
The central crux of the film, aside from the mere ridiculousness of its premise, is the depiction of the military force. With the exception of the Aaron Eckhart character, the soldiers would display little to no military competence. They flee from battles before they begin, and they break down when one of their fellow soldiers are killed. They shoot blindly at the sky, down the road, behind a car—anywhere in sight that might provide openings for the aliens to attack. They have no sense ammunition efficiency, or even any sense of efficient strategizing. These are supposed to be the two foremost qualities of any effective soldier.
In one particular scene, I recall a young soldier hiding in a neighborhood basement, separated from his platoon, out of fear of being detected by the aliens. He uses up almost an entire round of bullets on one enemy and still couldn’t defeat it. A fellow soldier had to throw a frag grenade to save his neck. The platoon is filled with too many of incompetent, unreliable men like this one. Apparently, neither their military training nor their service in the previous wars had hardened them in any way, shape or form.
All of this, I suspect, was the writer’s most convenient way of displaying the Eckhart character’s competence through comparison. The creators of this film must have realized they needed at least one exemplary soldier, but they did not know exactly how to portray one realistically. So, they retarded the abilities of the rest of the squadron merely to serve as a reference point for the Eckhart character. Next to the other men, he is brave, daring and dedicated.
The film also suffers substantially from a sort of identity crisis. As the film moves from the second to third act, it becomes unclear whether it is trying to be an action picture, a melodrama, a drama or science-fiction. The message that “soldiers never quit” was conspicuously forced in fairly late in the film when Eckhart’s character lectures his platoon about the chaos of war. This new theme was maintained for the remaining thirty minutes, ending on a hopeful note for the survival of mankind. By introducing this thematic element so late, and developing it so poorly throughout the film, the narrative is damaged irreversibly with an incomprehensible, flimsy message.
Adding to the incoherence of the narrative is the editing techniques employed in an attempt to capture the chaos of war. Instead of creating intense moments in battle, the shaky camera and the loosely cut shots employed serve only to confuse the viewers. Particularly during the first half of the film, the source of alien weapon-fire was never quite clear. Every frame is filled with a ridiculous collection of explosions and gunfire that there is hardly any time to build up suspense to a particular sequence. As a result, the action is thin-layered and inconsequential.
Battle: Los Angeles is a silly and altogether unnecessary installment to the disaster genre. To say that it provides too little, too late would be an understatement. It is a film that is lost within its own genre. Let us just hope that this will be the last time Hollywood tries to blow up the world.