"Battle: Los Angeles" (2011)

Battle: Los Angeles
Directed by: Jonathon Liebesman
Running Time: 116 minutes

Now Showing this week is the new film Battle: Los Angeles which made its Australian debut last Thursday. Now I already had an expectation of what this film would be like when I went to see it. I was hoping it would be a loud, enjoyably trashy action movie that would be a good break from all the serious, high-brow films I’ve been watching over the last few weeks. And I guess you could say that is essentially what I got, but what was so strange is that while watching the film I was spotting so many things that were in favour of it being a downright terrible film yet I was still enjoying it! Despite almost constantly criticizing it in my head, I still liked the film in all its trashy, explosiony glory. Perhaps that’s just because it was crap-loads (yes, that is a technical term) better than the film Skyline from last year, which isn’t hard I know but it was the closest film I could compare this too. Okay, maybe Independence Day too but shut up!

Basic story is that a United States Marine Corps Staff Sergent named Nantz (trust me, you forget most of the names within the first ten minutes and start to rely only on faces), played by Aaron Eckhart, has just put in his resignation from the Corps, effective once he finishes training his current recruits. He did this because he feels bad about getting a bunch of his men killed in the last mission he was sent on and thinks he’d be better off doing other things. Unfortunately, before his resignation takes effect, aliens from outer space crash into the coast of Los Angeles and all Marines have been called up to fight. Yeah, that’s basically it, were you expecting any more?

As I’m sure you no doubt have noticed, this storyline is incredible cliche. Well, just to be clear, this whole film is one giant walking cliche! I mean, there’s a soldier just shy of retirement being called back into action; all the Marines have the same “gun-ho” attitude as they always do; there’s an innocent boy they have to keep telling “to be brave” for them and that “I’m scared to”; there’s even a “leave me here, I’ll hold them off! Tell my wife I love her, that’s an order!” moment. The list goes on. Even the inclusion of Michelle Rodriguez is a cliche in itself given she’s played the “strong, tough female soldier” role so many times that it’s what we expect her to be. But, I’m gonna say something here that might make some people quite shocked (well, not really I’d just like to think it will) but here goes: cliches aren’t bad……..

Hear me out here, the soul reason something becomes a cliche is because when we see it, we like it and we want to see it again. And again, and again and again. So therefore, they are things that we like, or have previously liked, to see in films/books/video games or whatever. So what the hells wrong with them in a trashy, switch off brain movie? I’m not saying everything can just be cliched, not saying that at all, but you need to do at least two things: 1. Do the cliches well, if you just take a cliched idea and be half-arsed about using it then it’s gonna be painful to watch rather than enjoyably trashy. And 2. you do still need to throw some originality into the mix. If every movie was the same because we just rehashed the same cliches then we’re in trouble. But as long as you throw in a couple of new ideas, a cliched film can still be enjoyable. It won’t be a five star masterpiece like The Prestige or WALL-E but I will still enjoy the two hours I spent watching it. And I guess that’s the biggest decider for me when it comes to watching a film: did I enjoy watching it? If I did, that’s an immediate six out of ten, and then if the film is a wonderful, original, well made and acted master piece, the points increase.

Okay, I think I’ve gone a bit off topic here, whoops. So, Battle: Los Angeles. I think it’s biggest mistake was not actually acknowledging to itself that it was a trashy, explosiony switch-off movie. It actually tried to make us connect with/care about the characters, which is alright to do, but it tried a little too hard. It gave us a tiny back story for almost every single meat head soldier in Staff Sergent Nantz’s platoon instead of giving us a really interesting and deep back story into the main two characters. Because, let’s face it, the other characters are really just cannon fodder, they’re in the film so the aliens can demonstrate their killing abilities and invasion plan.

Speaking of which, that’s why Battle: Los Angeles was a good trashy film, the few original ideas came from the aliens. For one, I liked that you never really got a good look at them till towards the end. To begin with, they were kind of scary when you only see a glimpse of one running over a rooftop or a horde killing people recorded on a dodgey digi-cam. And what’s more, the film acknowledged a reason for the creatures to come to Earth and not anywhere else in the galaxy. I won’t spoil why, even though it’s not that awe inspiring, but I appreciated the fact that the filmmakers did that, especially after the terrible Skyline just ignored telling us a reason entirely just to add to the massive list of why that film was awful.

So, to wrap up, Battle: Los Angeles is definitely a film for the Call of Duty* generation. It’s big; it has lots of battles in streets with many phrases such as “frag out!” and “tango down!” being yelled out; it’s all about soldiers being soldiers. I wouldn’t recommend it to my parents, but it was a fun film to watch so if you enjoy the occasional trashy, explonsiony, switch-off movies that I’ve been talking about then its worth a look. I know I enjoy those movies, they’re good for movie nights because they’re the kind of movie you can all talk over and poke fun at without missing pivotal story details. See you next time!

*for those of you haven’t heard of Call of Duty, it is a video game series about playing as soldiers, fighting it suburban streets, yelling the aforementioned phrases and generally kicking-ass. Also, how the hell have you not heard of it?! It’s latest installment just broke the record for highest selling piece of entertainment in history, out selling any Beatles or Elvis album, Harry Potter book and The Dark Knight‘s opening week. Where have you been living?!

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3 thoughts on “"Battle: Los Angeles" (2011)

  1. Maybe a “cliche” becomes a “cliche” because it speaks to something that is actually true? How do we know what soldiers actually say on the battlefield? Maybe they do actually talk like this? I heard somewhere once that the most common battlefield phrase of a dying soldier is actually “tell my wife I love her.” For the most part Battle: Los Angeles seems to have used accurate military jargon throughout the film.

  2. You're quite right, it's probably what I'd say as well in their given situation. Another review I saw of this film actually said it was probably the best representation of what a streets war in Los Angeles would be like (from the soldier's perspective). And I agree, the jargon is very much real military jargon and the movie would have failed without it. But specifically on the “tell my wife I love her” moment, I think what made it a cliche was that since the character himself was very thin and we as an audience had no real connection with him, we didn't feel the sadness and tragedy of it and it was suddenly “cliche”. However, I did honestly feel heart broken and tragic when a child's father died in the film, since the child was such an emotive character without dialogue. His performance of just crying and shaking his father to wake up was just heart wrenching. Simple yes, but effective.

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