The world is invaded by a superior fighting force and, naturally, it is up to one scrappy band of American soldiers to save humanity in Battle: Los Angeles, a fizzy, refreshing glass of popcorn-movie for Aaron Eckhart.
Thankfully, this movie doesn’t waste a whole lot of time with setup. Pretty quickly, we get to the part where what were thought to be meteors turned out to be the ships of an invading alien force apparently after our liquid water. Marine Sgt. Michael Nantz (Eckhart) was just about to retire (of course) having recently been in combat where he lost some soldiers, one of whom happens to be the brother of a man, Jason Lockett (Cory Hardrict), in his current unit (naturally). But now that every major city in the world is fighting off an alien invasion, he’s been pressed into service, helping untested commanding officer Lt. William Martinez (Ramon Rodriguez) and, eventually, trying to save a small group of civilians including some children, a woman (Bridget Moynahan) with some medical skills and a just-a-regular-Joe father (Michael Peña).
But what really gives this group of hoo-rah-ing Marines the edge when it comes to battling aliens is Air Force Sgt. Elena Santos (Michelle Rodriguez). She is a tech officer by trade, looking for signs of the alien command ship, and a total badass by disposition. I can’t even tell you how awesome it is that in this testosterone-heavy Marine recruitment film not only is it the Air Force that makes a significant contribution to the fight but it’s a girl who does a lot of the taking-it-to-the-aliens. And sure, Rodriguez is the official go-to when you’re casting a Miss Lock-and-Load but she is so much fun to watch. As with every war movie, we have our young naïve country boy, our braniac doctor, our angry guy, our guy about to get married and where you would normally get the guy-the-leader-can-count-on character you get Rodriguez and her Santos character, shooting swagger and “you don’t want to mess with me” looks at the aliens unfortunate enough to get in her way.
All of the problems with Battle: Los Angeles are problems inherent to the form that are easier to ignore with a bigger budget. If this were, say, a Jerry Bruckheimer movie with some line-up of summertime stars, Will Smith or Johnny Depp, you probably wouldn’t have time to think about how ridiculous it is that a society that had mastered space travel and could fuel its ships with water would still have to engage us in running fire fights. Or how improbable it would be that even hours and hours into an invasion, we’d still have cable news. But the fact that you do have time to mull these issues over doesn’t make this movie a failure. The movie is to be commended for sparing us 45 minutes of “Mr. President, we’ve detected objects traveling at a high rate of speed” and “perhaps we should consider (pause) the nuclear option.” Battle: LA takes us from back story to shooting war in about the time it takes to get an order of nachos, extra cheese please, from the concession stand. (Though save yourself the money — you can easily get all the cheese you require straight from the movie itself.) And the soldiers, even if you can’t always remember who is who, are engaging semi-characters. Sure, you frequently can’t tell who just died — unless it was in a heroic, self-sacrificing manner, in which case they’ll probably get a slo-mo — but the action sequences are fun enough without being so absurd that you’re looking for everything that flops over to explode, a la that The Simpsons joke.
And then there’s Eckhart and Rodriguez, both delightful versions of the action hero. Eckhart is perhaps the real surprise here. Great at drama and black comedy, Eckhart also has a solid, I’m-taking-this-seriously action star behind his Handsome Man good looks.
Rated PG-13 for sustained and intense sequences of war violence and destruction and for language. Directed by Jonathan Liebesman and written by Christopher Bertolini, Battle: Los Angeles is an hour and 56 minutes long and is distributed by Sony Pictures.