Except for a change of perspective—it’s told from the viewpoint of the military fighting the invading alien hordes rather than civilians trying to escape them–“Battle: Los Angeles” is just “Skyline” with a bigger budget but no more brains. There’s one other difference: like its ultimate inspiration “The War of the Worlds,” it boasts a happy ending.
Aaron Eckhart juts out his prominent jaw courageously, but otherwise offers little in the way of characterization, as Marine Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz, who’s just a day away from retirement when earth becomes the target of what at first appear to be meteors landing across the globe, but turn out to be ships that release marauding hordes of metallic warriors—think Cylon-like armor encasing Guyver-like entities, or for the benefit of those to whom those references are too arcane, littler Transformers—onto major cities. One is Los Angeles, and Nantz is abruptly enlisted to join a squadron assigned to rescue a group of civilians trapped in a police station behind enemy lines. There’s one wrinkle to the assignment: Nantz is widely blamed for losing the men serving under him during his last deployment, and one of the guys in the new squad—Lockett (Cory Hardrict)—happens to be the brother of one of the men who died in that unhappy incident.
The whole of the movie consists of following the troops as they complete their mission—encountering the hostiles, losing men, picking up the civilians (two adults, a man and a woman, and three kids) and trying to make their way back to safety before the Air Force drops bombs on the city in three hours. Most of the action is covered in the sort of ultra-jerky hand-held camerawork that’s employed so often nowadays in an effort to simulate you-are-there immediacy, but as usual all it does is to cause confusion about what’s going on, not to mention a touch of nausea. The visuals stabilize a bit during pauses in the mayhem—mostly prolonged death sequences (some of them heroically self-sacrificial), during which Brian Tyler’s hard-working musical score also swells up mightily to play on our emotions—which has the oddly unpleasant effect of leading us to hope another passing is not far off. The camera also stalls during another predictable sequence, the Big Speech Nantz delivers to the fellow who blames him for his brother’s death at a crucial moment, letting his own guilt flow out while bolstering the surviving troops’ morale in the process.
Those are just a few of the cliches in a script that embraces every one of them, including a surfeit of references to John Wayne. Perhaps inevitably, amid the host of paper-thin characters Michelle Rodriguez shows up as a hard-as-nails scout who joins the squadron. The presence of a little boy (Bryce Cass) gives our hero the opportunity to bond with the kid before the boy’s father (Michael Pena) takes up a gun himself with unfortunate results. But the most hackneyed elements come at the close, when our small group not only discovers the key to turning the tide of battle by discovering the location of the invaders’ command ship but then decides to head out again immediately after delivering the surviving civilians to safety, without any rest or refreshment. Hoo-rah!
Under Jonathan Liebesman’s hectic but mechanical direction, “Battle: Los Angeles” churns on for a near-interminable 116 minutes, though if only two words could be removed from the script—“Staff Sergeant,” with which somebody seems to address our hero every ten seconds or so, even in the heat of combat—the running time could probably be reduced by a good half-hour.
At least “Skyline” was relatively short.