The seminal alien invasion movie, 1953’s The War of the Worlds, contained an actual idea, but now the genre bends one of two ways: Either it broadcasts ironic messages about brotherly love, or it’s simply a war movie in disguise, albeit of the politically correct, war-without-borders kind. Battle: Los Angeles doesn’t pretend to be anything else. It’s a hopped-up war movie, where the only solutions involve giant explosions.
Director Jonathan Liebesman (Darkness Falls, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning) is so excited about all this that he swings his camera into the fray, lurching around and twitching as if it were a round of ammo. As a result, neither the similarly clad Marines nor the CGI aliens get much screen time, and everything is a jackhammer haze of metal spray and concrete dust. But Aaron Eckhart is the star, playing veteran Staff Sgt. Michael Nantz; some men once died under his command, and his new recruits eye him with suspicion, as if he were a bigger threat than the aliens. Bridget Moynahan and Michael Peña are recognizable as civilians, but not as characters.
Liebesman does make some vague early attempts to establish characters—this one is supposed to get married, and that one has been seeing a shrink—but none of it comes to anything. Most of the dialogue involves military speak. Bad-movie buffs could make a drinking game out of how many times someone says “Roger that” or someone’s “got eyes on” something. Half the time the dialogue is obscured by noise, and when that’s not the case, the blaring score drowns out everything.
This dunderheaded movie totally fails to understand the rhythms that make great war films: the pauses, the rest stops, the focus on characters rather than battles. When the battles come, they should be chaotic within a clear context, so that the audience is invited in. If a camera is shaking, it doesn’t equal the chaos of war; it just equals a shaky camera. Battle: Los Angeles has a fervor, but it’s all in the wrong place. It’s so empty, disorienting and inept that it makes junk like Independence Day, Transformers and Skyline look skilled and intelligent.