A few months back I saw and enjoyed a goofy little matinee-style sci-fi/horror flick called Skyline ... and I'm still being mocked for my mostly positive review of the flick. But I still stand by what I liked about Skyline, partially because, well, I'm simply a sucker for "when aliens attack!" movies. As a kid I devoured titles like War of the Worlds, Invaders from Mars, The Blob, and dozens more, and even as a relative grown-up I find a lot to enjoy in movies called District 9, Cloverfield, and (again) War of the Worlds. (Sorry, not a big fan of Independence Day or Mars Attacks, oddly enough.) So it was with much anticipation (and a liberal dose of "adult cynicism") that I settled in for the latest cinematic invasion from beyond the stars: the big-budget, mega-flashy, and highly-anticipated action-fest entitled (aptly enough) Battle: Los Angeles.
And I had a ball with the flick ... with only a few nagging reservations.
We're introduced to the only multi-dimensional character the flick has to offer in its opening scenes: an aging Marine known as Nance who is (wouldn't you know it?) just about to retire when a massive alien invasion hits the California coast. Staff Sergeant Nance is promptly assigned to a team of youthful Marines, a harrowing briefing takes place, and then it's time for a big, sweaty, fast-paced adventure into the California battleground as the Marines head out to rescue a collection of civilians who are holed up in a nearby police station. If the description of Battle Los Angeles sounds a lot like something that could be called "First Person Shooter: The Movie," you'd be mostly right. (It's probably more of a third-person angle.) In other words, there's a lot of stuff in Battle that is obvious, conventional, predictable, and (yes) even a bit corny here and there; that much of the ostensible character development is threadbare or slipshod; and that several bits of dialogue hit the screen with a little bit of a THUD, but with those honest complaints out of the way...
There's also a lot of stuff in Battle: Los Angeles that kicks some serious ass. Namely, its long and frequently intense action scenes, a (mostly) expeditious narrative trek that keeps the mayhem frequent and the talky bits painless, a rock-solid hero that makes up for some egregiously under-written support soldiers, and special effects that range from enjoyably kitschy to pretty damn impressive. Director Jonathan Liebesman takes the leap from horror to big-time action with unexpected confidence. (He also directed Darkness Falls, Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, and The Killing Room.) The 50 (ok, 40) percent of the dialogue that isn't painfully rote is delivered in a quick and colorful fashion, the look of the flick is appropriately apocalyptic, and the action sequences actually arrive with some sort of cohesive geography. (One extended freeway battle is a particular standout.)
It'd be way too easy to praise Battle: Los Angeles for being quality popcorn movie junk, label it as some sort of "guilty pleasure," and move on to the next flick -- but if there's a skill, a talent, and an artistry to the construction of these super-expensive mega-movies, then this is the sort of example we need a few more of: never brilliant or unique or remotely transcendent, but huge, loud, powerful, amusing, exciting, and just "real" enough to make us remember why we love this sort of stuff. If the flick lacks a little bit of the freshness, intelligence, or subversiveness that could have made Battle: Los Angeles something truly special, that seems like an unfair criticism of a bombastic piece of high-end movie mayhem that's actually worth a $10 investment. Eckhart's effortlessly cool performance is one of the movie's best assets, but there's also a few tons of high-end, simplistic entertainment to be found here. Aside from a few cringe-worthy moments of cornball dialogue (something you'll find in just about every "aliens attack" movie), Battle: Los Angeles is one of the most smoothly entertaining blockbusters in over a year.
Frankly Battle: Los Angeles is what Alien 3 should have been.