"We make our stand here." – SSgt. Nantz
I really wanted to like this movie. I’m a huge fan of Aaron "Two-Face" Eckhart and Michelle "I die often" Rodriguez. I really dig the sub-genre known as military sci-Fi, where brave soldiers explore distant planets, meet alien civilizations and then shoot them in the face, such as in Heinlein, Drake and H. G. Wells, who pretty much invented the genre with War of the Worlds. There’s a visceral pleasure in reading about or watching hard-bitten warriors fend off alien death, or the heroism of those who sacrifice their lives for the sake of friends and innocents.
Battle: Los Angeles knows the ingredients of these stories; it has no idea how to put them together.
So here’s the skinny: Eckhart is Michael Nantz, an Iraq veteran working as a trainer after his last rotation ended when all the men in his unit were killed. He’s just put in his paperwork to retire. The sheer volume of cliches in this opening should give you an idea what the rest of the movie will be like.
After we meet Nantz, we’re quickly introduced to the other Marines we will be looking over the shoulders of for the rest of the movie; the guy about to be married, the young redneck who gets teased about being a virgin, the gung-ho motor-mouth, the guy who had a brother in Nantz’s unit that died so there can be intra-unit conflict, the freshly minted Lieutenant who never led men in battle before and cracks under pressure until Nantz tells him to man up.
There's also badass Air Force Recon Sgt. Santos, played by Rodriguez, found by the crew after the aliens start blowing people away.
This is where B: LA starts to go wrong. You can do alien invasion flick from the viewpoint of the regular grunts; just read any of the Gaunt’s Ghost’s books by Dan Abnett for proof. But the soldiers have to be interesting, with personalities so that we care when some die in a hail of plasma bolts, and not a bunch of traits on a military unit checklist: Smart-Ass: 1 each.
If a movie is not going to show the invasion from several viewpoints, the ID4 method, for example, then give us a good look at the aliens.
There are so many quick-cuts and so much dust in this movie that I could barely see anything, B: LA is trying to go for the Black Hawk Down / Modern Warfare “You are there!” feel, and while some of the action scenes are intense, everything moves too quickly for it to seem like it has any weight.
The final problem with B: LA is that it doesn’t really have an ending.
In Black Hawk Down, which B: LA
rips off heavily borrows from. When the movie is over, the op is over. The war is still going, but the main operation had been completed and there was a feeling of resolution.
Here, we follow the soldiers around, they shoot up aliens, they get shot up, some objectives are achieved, but at the end of my two hours, it wasn't really over. While I can forgive the invasion itself not being turned back, the battle for Los Angeles itself is still going. While this does set them up for the sequel hook, it’s not very satisfying.
I liked some parts. Eckhart is a great actor and it's always fun to watch Rodriguez be a badass. Some of the action scenes are very well done. What we see of the aliens is interesting. The Marines are shown in a very good light. There are some funny moments, and a few original ideas, including when the soldiers and a vet perform an alien autopsy to try and figure out the best way to kill them.
Battle: Los Angeles fails because it lacks any sort of originality. It’s a checklist military flick, cross-bred with a checklist alien invasion flick.
If any effort was put into making the characters worth caring about, this could have been the kick-ass action movie of the spring.
Instead, it lives down to its abbreviation: BLA.