First things first: if you like movies, especially science fiction movies, see Battle: Los Angeles.
A lot of critics put it down in the low mediocre category, and it wasn’t a huge winner at the box office either.
I think they missed the point: Battle:LA is a little movie with a big budget. It’s a ‘small band of guys caught in the fog of war’ movie and it does a lot of things right while minimizing the things it does wrong, which is to say it wears its cliches lightly.
Yes, you have the hard bitten hero. Yes, you have the commanding officer who doesn’t know what he’s doing. You have the adorable child, the assortment of doomed soldiers. But the movie doesn’t waste a lot of time trying to do anything interesting with the back stories; instead, it plunges you right into the action, loops back to a relatively quick review of the events leading up to L.A. being the center of the battle, and gets on with its business.
Up until the last third of the movie, where it has to get ‘bigger’ and thus much less believable, the movie does as good a job as I’ve seen in a while of conveying what it’s like to be in combat, and in particular combat against an enemy of superior and unknown capabilities.
That said, there is something fascinating about Battle:LA which I missed while watching the movie.
The closest relative to this movie, of course, is 1994’s Independence Day. Both movies are about implacable aliens invading the earth for its resources. Both have a sort-of maguffin, that being ‘how do you destroy the thing that controls the invaders, the headquarters?’
ID did what science fiction movies are required to do: you got to meet the aliens up close. They had personality – at one point, the President asks an ID alien what the aliens want the human race to do. The alien replies “Die.” It’s a genuinely chilling moment, and makes the whole thing very personal.
But Battle:LA has no such moment. In fact, the movie goes out of its way to depersonalize the enemy. At one point, the soldiers capture an alien and try to figure out how to kill the creature. It’s matter-of-fact: do we stab it here or here? And the alien is less grotesque and more incoherent. You never really get a sense of what the creature’s body is like. On top of that, some of the worst enemies are drones, with no evil aliens behind the wheel at all.
And that’s why I think the movie is peculiarly appropriate for 2011. We are facing an enemy (the economy) which feels less personal and more like a force of nature. Of course that’s not true, but it is the experience of millions of Americans, who feel like they were caught in a tsunami starting in 2008. And that’s what you get out of Battle:LA – how do you beat back something overwhelming, something that destroys lives? The movie has no way of really solving the problem and really doesn’t try, but does end on an eerie note – the war’s not over, the city’s on fire, and some tired people can’t stop, because it would still be very easy to lose everything.