Battle Los Angeles (2011)
When I first began going to the cinema, we were still regularly recycling the WWII propaganda films. The message, obviously, was how great the Allied forces were and how quickly they were going to defeat the Evil Axis. Fortunately, history was on their side. Then came the wave of American films dealing with the Korean War. Fortunately, the arrival of MASH and others rebalanced the view. The essence of most of these films is that iconic figures like John Wayne (who’s mentioned in this film) in The Fighting Seabees demonstrate adaptability and toughness as men. This individual skill set makes them inherently superior to the enemy, i.e. no matter what the numbers or the difference in access to resources, “our boys” will always triumph because they are better soldiers. It’s a comfortable myth to build because, once established, it acts as a deterrent to other countries who might wish to challenge American dominance.
Battle Los Angeles (2011) is one of these simple-minded science fiction action films in which technologically advanced aliens splash down in the seas just off eight major cities around the globe and then proceed to rollover the local defensive forces. This is not surprising since, if these alien guys can construct interstellar craft, they should have military superiority over our backwater planet. Anyway, this is all put to the test in Los Angeles where a few of America’s finest (and one or two others) are thrown into the battle. It’s a bit like Custer’s Last Stand except, this time, Earth can’t afford to lose. If Los Angeles falls, that’s it for the whole of Earth’s defences (no matter how far inland they may be based). You just can’t help but admire the loving care that goes into crafting the plots of these films. So here we go with the Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) who’s had enough after his last tour of duty in Afghanistan where he lost a lot of the men under his command. He tenders his resignation just as Earth’s scientists are warning of the approach of a meteor shower. His reputation sucks but as the meteors start slowing down before entering the atmosphere, he’s the experienced sergeant sent out to babysit the new lieutenant.
With the aliens swinging quickly into acton, the US helicopters fly over the beach so we can see the shelling and the fires. Guess what. The aliens are not supposed to have airpower. The fact they could fly to Earth and land in the sea means they are no good in the atmosphere, right? They are just coming out of the water and establishing a beachhead (sic). Our heroes are sent out into the smoke to rescue some civilians from a nearby police station. So there’s lots of shaky cam work as we move through the first phase with a brief sighting of a mechanised alien figure. Once they get to the police station, their rescue helicopter is shot out of the sky. Naturally, they find a wounded alien and, after stripping off its armour, try to work out where its vulnerable points are. Perhaps if we stick in a knife here. . . Fortunately one of the civilians waiting for rescue is a veterinarian and good with knives. To make their escape, they get a bus moving and quickly realise the aliens are in the air are and tracking their radio signals. This prompts the Staff Sergeant into the first act of individual heroism. He leads one of the alien craft away and, with a radio placed in a gas station, blows it out of the sky.
They see it’s a drone which means there has to be a centralised control centre — these damn aliens always have a weakness, right? So let’s take this step by step. They are a long way from home and that limits boots on the ground, so they use drone technology. The fact sane aliens would have developed death rays or killer bacteria tailored to eradicate humanity is not allowed. There would be no film if they could take over an empty planet. So they sit in their command centre and pummel Earth remotely. Except, in real terms, there’s not as much damage to property as you might expect. We’re not supposed to ask why US citizens, armed to the teeth courtesy of the NRA, are not lurking in cellars and underground car parks, waiting for the aliens to come into range. You see the use of drones only gets these invaders so far. At some point, they need grunts to clear the few human holdouts. With the characteristic arrogance you expect of aliens who have just pummelled LA from the air, they insist on coming on foot or tentacle (it’s hard to tell) and socking it to us mano-a-mano. Ah ha! They suddenly discover they are vulnerable to our bullets and explosives. Gee, that’s a surprise.
Because it’s a bit tiring to have nonstop explosions and shooting, our few human survivors get back to the airbase they started from to find everyone dead — it saves on the cost of extras. Once in a hanger, the civilian father dies from wounds and our hero has to comfort the son with inspirational words about the survival characteristics of the marine corps. It all brings a lump to the throat which make it difficult to swallow. The plot now calls for them to commandeer armored vehicles to get to an extraction point. This time the helicopter makes it to collect them. Every other bird may have been shot out of the sky but our boys have a ticket to ride. Except all the electronics go mad at one point. Hey, perhaps that’s the all-powerful control centre broadcasting to the area. Well let’s go see.
The ultimate model for films like this is Earth vs the Flying Saucers (1956) in which the aliens were winning so long as they stayed inside their force fields but got shot to pieces once they came out into the open. The only variation on display in Battle Los Angeles is the first-person shooter feel of some of the early sequences. Everything else is tired clichés. Even the CGI and special effects are unimpressive. Not, of course, that we should be expecting anything better. This is just bigger and louder than some of the films that went before. So if brainless science fiction militarism is your thing, this is probably a good film to watch when you have nothing better to do.