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Battle for Originality

Went to see Battle: Los Angeles, because that’s the kind of braindead movie one wants to watch after you’ve done nothing but feel ill and write code all day.

When I say braindead, I really do mean it. The movie is practically Military Movie 101, it throws in so many clichés. The first half hour is spent ‘getting to know’ the main players in the force, which is not only needless because their personalities are summed up in less than a minute, but also… well, let’s face it, they all end up looking the same in the heat of a battle. One guy is joked about by the others because he’s a virgin, but it’s difficult to see what other contribution he makes to the movie because it’s so damn hard to keep track of who’s who. We have emotional overreactions thrown about every ten minutes. The group find two adult civilians who provide one useful bit of support and then are made redundant. There are the kid civilians are there just for the marines to give inspirational speeches to. At one point there’s a helicopter with wounded soldiers (who are all given emotional good luck speeches from their comrades) that is blown up mere seconds after takeoff. There’s a rather needless scene where the hero and female civilian (who I guess is meant to be a love interest, but it sure isn’t developed!) muck about with an alien corpse and try to find its weak spot (which is to the right of where a human’s heart would be. Yeah, like you wouldn’t hit that eventually through regular fire). All the film needs is a dog that somehow survives all the hellish action until the end of the film and the aliens taking over a human’s body and that would nearly complete the set!

I won’t deny that even for a braindead action film, it was kinda hard to sit through the first half of the film, because it just feels so by-the-numbers. The aliens totalling this huge city does cast an impressive visual, but it’s not something I haven’t seen before in several movies and video games. The aliens themselves are interesting looking, a strange mix of organic and robotic elements to their biology with an intriguing mixture of drone aircraft and gun turret walkers at their disposal, but again, there have been more exciting alien threats in other media (though given the fact these aliens have no backstory and their only motive is to kill shit and take our water, it’s not like they’re a complex, layered race). And given the marines do little more than just shout all the time, you wouldn’t be challenged to find a more intriguing band of heroes.

I admit I found it a little limited in comparison to other films of the basic earth-vs-them-other-fellas genre; the entire movie is spent with this one squadron, and it’s all just ground combat. Mind you, my main measuring stick is Independence Day, which not only had the irresistible charms of Will Smith as the leading character (don’t try and convince me he isn’t!), but had him engaging in air combat with alien ships (and stealing one of their vehicles!), more expert analysis of the alien biology and their technology, and the president flying a fucking fighter jet. It’s the kind of thing that puts hairs on your chest that are dyed red, white and blue. Battle: Los Angeles, meanwhile, is a lot more low-key… if you can somehow use that word when describing a movie about aliens invading earth and blowing us the hell up. While Independence Day focuses more on the drama of every major (and supporting) character and the curiosity over who these alien invaders are, Battle: Los Angeles is simply “aliens are stealing the goddamned ocean, and we don’t approve one bit.” Also, Independence Day is totally ridiculous fluff while Los Angeles seems very concerned with giving us gritty, ‘realistic’ Marine fluff, with aliens.

Mind you, in a way that does give the movie a more unique feel. It’s a lot more self-contained, and the work of one group of Marines is nearly all it takes for the alien threat to be removed from Los Angeles. Independence Day is constantly whipping between the president, the soldiers, the tech guys, the politicians and all manner of groups who all collaborate to defeat the threat, but this one shows that a mere few men with faith in their ambitions can kick some ass hard and heartily. Of course, this is probably more to do with how the film feels more like a love letter to the armed forces that happens to have some aliens kicking around. Independence Day is more of a general feel-good film where even the drunkest bastards and the oldest planes can stand up to alien warships.

As a jaded video game person, the feel of Battle: Los Angeles didn’t seem to quite hit the stride it wanted to. The military stuff offered absolutely nothing new, and the whole alien aspect lacked anything fresh. Which is a pity, as the movie would deliver some genuinely awe-inspiring visuals when it wanted to. The climax of the film involves the alien drone generator having been hit with an airstrike, and to save face, it rises from beneath the ground and is towed through the sky by several drones with grappling hooks, and it’s a mad dash to light it up with a homing beacon for a second air strike before it gets away. After the movie feels so humdrum for an hour and a half, it was a really awesome sight, one that made me smile and think to myself, “aw yeah, this is the kind of stuff I paid to see.” It’s a pity that that was only the end of the freakin’ film.

Considering the ticket cost a mere £3, I can hardly complain. If you’re a big war film buff then it’s probably a no-brainer, but otherwise I didn’t feel there was much of a serious draw to make it stand out, unless tickets are cheap. Admittedly, throughout most of the first half of the film I couldn’t help but be reminded of Valve’s games for some reason. The comparison to Half-Life 2 is pretty obvious, but the scene where the troops are going through various backyards and are ambushed by aliens shooting form rooftops, it reminded me a lot of Left 4 Dead, strangely. I spent a lot of my time pondering how a Left 4 Dead film would work, whether or not four characters could carry the story (if any), and how the film would actually be laid out – it’d be a bit much to cram six campaigns into two hours while keeping all the good bits.

And while I’m waffling, why Battle: Los Angeles? Now that I’ve skimmed the IMDb trivia I see it’s playing into some minor event during World War II, but the alien invasion is impacting all of Earth, and we even see very brief footage of the international attacks. Why not have it set somewhere we don’t see much in films, like Nigeria or somewhere? Even Ireland is mentioned as one of the drop sites for the alien invaders. Battle: Ahoghill may not have the same ring as Battle: Los Angeles, but it might have made it stand out a little more. Not that I’m even familiar with the Ahoghill area, but it’d be nice to see something take place in Ireland that isn’t just another bloody dramatization of the Troubles.

Yes, a stupid movie about shouting people fighting bug robots has gotten more wordage out of me than a darkly comedic Biblical parallel of a suburban Jewish family. Clearly I am the bane of good film critique.

3 Comments

  1. greybob wrote:

    I read somewhere that if this does well, they might make more Battle: Insert name of place here movies. So maybe Battle: Ahoghill could still happen!

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 4:55 am | Permalink
  2. MightyKombat wrote:

    Please tell me we’ll get a Battle: Fucking. Its a real village in Austria.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fucking,_Austria

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 12:40 pm | Permalink
  3. Ragey wrote:

    Tangentially related: I always thought “Battle Orgy” would be a great subtitle for a multi-franchise crossover fighting game. Thought I’d share!

    I was thinking about whether or not the movie would get a sequel as I left the theatre. The battle isn’t over when the movie ends, and the characters immediately head out on the next assault before the credits roll, so while it’s blatantly open for a sequel… does it really need one?
    I mean, the movie didn’t really offer much in the way of originality, and while a change of scenery would be nice, they’d need more than that to make it stand out. Oh, sure, they could have more kinds of aliens, but I personally don’t see much sequel potential in it. Then again, if it rakes in at the box office (also kind of doubtful!), they’ll probably go for it.

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 1:39 pm | Permalink