“Bunch of slack jawed fagots around here!”. Those words uttered by Jesse Ventura in the helicopter in Predator as a group of mercenaries prepare to enter the jungle on a deadly mission, only to find themselves hunted by a vicious alien. Those words were highly amusing because Jesse Ventura said it with so much meaning and intent, almost hate (but in a nice way) towards his fellow comrades. It was funny because looking around the helicopter you see a group of tough men, guys you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley, guys you’d feel safe with if they were rescuing you, guys you know would fight to the death. Hell, even the geeky looking one with glasses reading a comic looks like he could snap your neck with his little finger. The Army, military, mercenaries or whatever you wanna call them have their moments in film, but sadly they often come across as nothing more than weak target practise for the enemy. There are a few exceptions to the rule, Saving Private Ryan, The Thin Red Line hell even Eastwood’s Flag of Our Fathers, but what I find most irritating these days with the way the American military are portrayed in films is that they all have to abide by some stupid patriotic rule and become less human and more a Hollywood gung-ho, hands in the air machine. If Jesse Ventura turned to these guys in Battle LA and called them a bunch of slack jawed faggots, you wouldn’t laugh as you did in Predator, you’d believe him and think “damn he’s right”
Welcome to Battle LA, a movie about an alien invasion that ticks all the boxes for a major Hollywood blockbuster and does EXACTLY what you’d expect it to do. Granted there are some superb special effects and the odd scene that you really weren’t expecting, but over-all it’s a run of the mill actioner about the good old U S of A battling a threat to their beloved nation. We briefly meet the military guys, and almost as fast as we meet them we forget them and when they are all together in combat they all merge into great big military group that all pretty much look and act the same, all the characterisation is quickly lost and any feelings you have for any of them has disappeared. From what I remember we have a guy getting married in a few days and some odd jokes about smelling flowers in the florist and how he will punch his army friend if he continues to wind him up, or something like that. We have another guy with some sort of mental issues as he is seeing a shrink, someone else who was desperate to sign up and enrolled as soon as he was old enough. The poor little fella is the youngest and needs to be looked after by his peers and can’t handle his drink. Another guy is an expected virgin, and another lost his brother in combat whilst under the leadership skills of Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart, the films saving grace). Are we getting the picture here?
Plot wise the film is incredibly thin, and apart from the alien invasion and the “mission” the only real story of note is that of Eckhart’s Staff Sergeant Nantz. He lost “good men” on his last mission, one of them being the brother of one of the platoon he commands here. You can write where this part of the script goes with your eyes closed. However, Nantz is the only character in the film you will actually give a shit about, and Eckhart works wonders in a blitz of gun battles, explosions and big action set-pieces to give his character depth and a personality, something which the rest are lacking. Nantz wants out of the forces, and just as he “hangs up his spurs” or however the saying goes, those blasted aliens arrive and ruin his plans of retirement! 2nd Lieutenant William Martinez (Ramon Rodriguez) is taking out his first ever platoon, and is nervous as hell and with Nantz as his second in command he turns to him for guidance which is met with endless cheeseiness such as “you’re in command here, son”, or “this is YOUR platoon”. Get your sick bags ready dear readers as you just might need some!
The film actually opens well, and gradually descends into crappiness the longer it goes on, but for the beginning it’s a solid start. We begin right in the middle of the marine’s on a helicopter heading in to be told their mission, explosions happening all around it looks promising as they fly over L.A’s beaches and witness the chaos and mayhem. This lasts for about a minute and all that excitement stops as we suddenly jolt back to “minus 24 hours before something or other”. Then we have to deal with the embarrassing introductions to our so-called heroes and then, thankfully, we witness the aliens attack. The opening in the middle of everything was a nice touch, it was cool and original-ish and landed the viewer in the thick of the mayhem with no explanation. Your defences weren’t up as you weren’t expecting this and it is exciting. I will admit to feeling slightly let down as I do enjoy watching the actual alien invasion as it happens, I like the build up and suspense of it and thankfully we do get that, although it seemed incredibly brief. It’s all over the news that meteors are heading to Earth but no one really seems to care until they start slowing down on impact and attacking. The military are called in, and our guys see the army on the news and act like children as one calls out “That’s us man, that’s us!!!” Our platoon are given their mission after some hefty stares at Nantz, and their mission is to head into LA and rescue the survivors at a police station and get the hell out of dodge in less than three hours because the military are planning to “level this place!” Off our platoon head and we’re barely ten minutes in. Now sit back and enjoy close to two hours of running battles with aliens because, to be honest, that’s what we’ve paid to see…
A cracking scene showing the aliens crash land in the sea just off a beach by a news reporter is great stuff. We witness the aliens appear out of the water and start zapping everyone, and with the use of it being news reporter footage it’s all shaky and grainy and really adds to the sense of panic. Sadly, the aliens are then revealed to our platoon far too soon and the big mystery as to what they look like is over. However, they are pretty impressive aliens, brandishing guns and running round like proper military forces, they are coordinated and clever. In the first of many battles, our platoon has its first gun battle with a group of aliens almost instantly as they head up the deserted streets of LA. It’s an intense battle and is very exciting and not only are the effects damned impressive, the sounds of the guns is exceptional. The excitement of this battle and momentum does keep going for the first hour or so and it’s pretty impressive stuff but sadly it’s the text-book banter between the platoon that first starts to grow tiresome, and then the battles themselves. It’s not that the film runs out of ideas, it’s more that there’s too many of them and no break-up in the relentless pace. You get to a point where you just want it all to stop, just for a second and calm down. No more explosions or gunfights, no more fuckin idiots putting their dog-tags in their boots instead of round their neck “in case his head gets blown off and that way they can still identify him”, no more letters to wives or big moments of realisation. No more big ideas or family friendly chats and speeches. Just be normal for a second, can you do that? No, it’s one great big patriotic moment after another after another. Normally films like this build to an almighty climax with a REALLY big monster or great big action sequence. Battle L.A seems more intent on building up to the next moment of patriotism more than anything and it becomes quit irritating.
There are tense scenes and scenes that will quite literally take your breath away. A scene on a smashed up freeway and the attempt to save the civilians by hanging them off a bridge is awesome; not least because of the fact the aliens introduce a new gun! But everything just seems to blend into one great big action piece; it feels like the whole film is one great big patriotic scene. I daren’t say anything about the end because it would spoil things but you WILL be bringing up that popcorn or hotdog you ate earlier at the level of cheesiness on show. See, with films like District 9 and Aliens, somehow the director strikes the perfect balance between awe inspiring alien movie and not being cheesy and sick inducing. It can be done, just not here. Battle LA is like Independence Day on steroids, and it’s told and filmed from the perspective of the soldiers and makes a sad attempt at them becoming your friends, your comrades. The film fails on all counts and if you found Independence Day annoying then steer well clear of this. The films saving grace is a superb performance by Eckhart and some exceptional sound and special effects. To be fair the action is great fun but it just never lets up and you lose that wow factor once you’ve seen the same scene but in a different context again and again. This is a film solely aimed at the popcorn market and for that it does its job nicely. I can’t see it lasting long at the cinema as word gets round that the great big spectacle we were all hoping for is just another war film with an added twist, here they fight aliens with big guns and brains. Forget plot, forget logic and forget you brain if you plan to see this, that way you just might find some enjoyment out of it.