Battle: Los Angeles is what testosterone looks like under a microscope, and I mean that in the worst possible way. It’s not a movie so much as it is a drill sergeant screaming in your face for two hours and mocking you with a barrage of sentimental cliches. It’s a fair statement to say that I hated this…whatever-it-is, but it’s not quite strong enough. I hated the grueling experience of sitting through Battle: Los Angeles more than I hated Avatar. And if you know anything about me, then you know how much I hated Avatar. I do not say this lightly. Fuck Battle: Los Angeles.
I wasn’t terribly interested in seeing this movie to begin with, but when it’s a free screening and it’s about war with aliens, you go, so I went. I know many thought the trailer for this film bordered on art—and God knows it’s about a billion times better than the movie it’s trying to lure you to see—but I was made pretty wary by it. I sincerely hoped that it didn’t turn out to be a plotless two-hour-long battle scene. In retrospect, I had no idea exactly how much I should have been hoping for that.
About one minute in, I knew this movie wasn’t for me. About five minutes in, I was thoroughly annoyed by the ultra-close-up and always-shaky camera-work that pervaded even scenes as mundane as flower-shopping. I’m sure director Jonathan Liebesman would have you believe that this sort of shooting style gives the film a docudrama quality, but it doesn’t. Liebesman’s director of photography for this film was Lukas Ettlin, which is a very interesting name for a set of wind-up chattering teeth.
Ten minutes into the movie I was fully prepared to grab the screen, shake it violently and scream “OH MY GOD I DON’T CAAAAARE!!!” Why exactly I didn’t escapes me. The remaining hour and fifty minutes was spent in sporadic fits of intense boredom, wild annoyance, and laughter of complete and utter disbelief.
The script by Christopher Bertolini is one of the worst scripts that actually made it to film in a long time. It’s a formless hodgepodge of the most horrendously clichéd characters and dialogue this side of fucking anywhere, and there isn’t a trace of anything resembling even a concept from which a plot might spring.
The saddest part, however, is that with Liebesman’s total ineptitude behind the camera, the script actually becomes one of the movie’s more minor problems as it trudges through forced incomprehensible chaos set to an equally (and constantly) chaotic wretched corpse of a recycled musical score (which completely contradicts and feels awkward and stupid alongside the “docudrama” shooting style).
To boot, the visual effects are atrociously cheap-looking and poorly designed. These aliens are some of the dumbest-looking extraterrestrials to ever grace the silver screen…and that’s saying something. They all look like the Aquaman villain, Black Manta at various stages of development and steroid usage and it’s hard to tell whether they’re half-machine or just wearing fancy suits. But don’t worry–you won’t care that much.
Battle: LA is so bad it made me question why I even like movies in the first place. If this film could contain so many shadows of films that came before it, most of which were genuinely good, why was I hating the experience so much? Maybe I actually just hate movies?
It’s been a day since I saw it, though and I’m thinking much more clearly now, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit shaken up still.
However, in a roundabout way, I can thank it for helping me discover something about myself. After watching this movie, I have realized that it is absolutely possible to admire the intent of a film while hating it like it killed your children and pooped on their graves. Usually, if I think that a movie didn’t work but I like the idea I can muster up a few nice things to say about it, but not here.
But I genuinely do like the rough sentiment of the movie; that is to say I like the idea of making an alien-invasion movie that is told like a war film following a band of soldiers. I’ve always wanted to see alien movies branch out—to see a movie that feels exactly like how it might actually feel if we were invaded by a gang of unfriendly extraterrestrials.
And the only real way to actually accomplish this is to have said aliens invade a pre-established realistic movie genre. And war movies are a great place to start, are they not? Alas, Battle: LA fails with a cold, hard vengeance.
Personally, I think the next patch of movie turf that should be colonized by aliens should be depressing indie dramas. Can you imagine Winter’s Bone or Half Nelson or pre-Pineapple Express David Gordon Green with aliens? I can, and it’s pretty fucking awesome. Of course, how one would do that and not make it gimmicky and ridiculous or even tongue-in-cheek is beyond me, but I’d love to see someone try. If Paul Thomas Anderson can rain frogs from the sky at the end of Magnolia, then why the hell not?
Honestly, though, I wouldn’t have thought that something as obvious of a crowd-pleasing goldmine as an alien-invasion war movie would have or even could have been so easily and completely screwed up as it is in Battle: LA. I can only recommend this movie to single late-teen and twenty-something males who hated Watchmen simply because there was too much talking, and it is with all the spite (condescension?) that I can muster that I tell them: go ahead, give it a whirl. If explosions, gunfire, and yelling is really—and I mean really—all you need, then by all means, buy the ticket, take the ride, see you in Hell. This movie makes Michael Bay look like he’s trying.
Yeah. I just said that.
BLA is full-blown cinematic idiocy on display for the world to see. I hope that they show it in film schools, where it can be studied shot-by-shot as the apotheosis of how simple, harmless moviemaking can go horribly, tragically wrong. If anyone ever tries to sit me down in front of Battle: Los Angeles again, I’m going to punch them in the face.