"THIS IS A TEXTBOOK military invasion," says an important-looking army guy early in Battle: Los Angeles. He's only glimpsed briefly, and his ominous sound bite is sandwiched between frantic visions of chaos: a pixelated explosion, rendered through eerie night-vision, or massive pillars of dust and smoke, smeared across a blue sky. This is war, and it's war as we're used to seeing it—through handheld cameras, through lightning-edited bursts flashing across TVs. This time, though, the warzone is America, and the invading army hails from somewhere a bit further away than another continent.
It's easy to break down the DNA of Battle: Los Angeles—its parents are H. G. Wells' The War of the Worlds and Ridley Scott's Black Hawk Down, but there are plenty of other ancestors, too, including Independence Day, The Big Red One, The Hurt Locker, District 9, Cloverfield, Aliens, and Saving Private Ryan. Deep down, this is an old-school war flick, albeit one in which the bad guys aren't Nazis but rather bulb-headed extraterrestrial cyborgs; it's up to Marine Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) and his platoon to hold 'em off, preferably while also keeping a few annoying civilians alive.
What Battle: Los Angeles does right is damn impressive: While alien armadas aren't anything new to anyone who's ever seen a movie, something that's seen a lot less is an America at war—an America with smoke-clogged streets, burned-out cars, and rocket-split buildings. In Battle: Los Angeles, there's little doubt which force has the superior military; the resulting damage to our world is strangely tangible and jarring to behold. The fact that director Jonathan Liebesman and cinematographer Lukas Ettlin keep their cameras handheld, insistently binding our perspective close to this grimy, rubble-strewn ground, only adds to Battle: Los Angeles' surreally convincing destruction.
But what Battle: Los Angeles does wrong might be a deal-killer. If you're just looking for some military sci-fi action, you won't be disappointed; if you're looking for much more, you will be, unless you're content with a few ill-advised attempts at conveying any emotions that can't be summed up with a macho "Hoo-rah!" Still, credit where credit's due—Christopher Bertolini's sparse script does give Liebesman plenty of opportunities for kickass visual sequences, including one creepy scene in which Nantz & Co. coldly vivisect a space invader, awkwardly pulling apart its body in a desperate attempt to learn its biology, and thus how to kill it.
Actually, I guess it makes sense why that scene is Battle: Los Angeles' most memorable—at the end of the day, it comes down to the viscera. Too bad the only believable heart in this film belongs to a twitching, dying alien. Shit, if that thing nestled in its mecha-torso even was a heart.